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Posts Tagged ‘Indonesian contemporary art’

Sin Sin, Hong Kong gallerist and Indonesian art specialist, on recently flourishing Indonesian art scene- interview-

Posted by artradar on September 9, 2009


INDONESIAN CONTEMPORARY ART

Sin Sin, Hong Kong curator, artist, and designer

Sin Sin, Hong Kong curator, artist, and designer

It was a sweltering Hong Kong afternoon, and I was feeling scattered after running through Hong Kong’s charmingly retro Hollywood Road district in search of the renowned Sin Sin Atelier. Upon discovering it, I was escorted into Sin Sin’s office, which was unlike any ‘office’ I have ever seen. I felt I had stumbled upon an oasis of tranquility within Central, or a secret inner sanctum. Clearly I had found a special place, and a very special woman. Her name is Sin Sin, and she was kind enough to spend some of her time speaking with Art Radar.

To be blunt, Sin Sin is the reigning queen of Indonesian art in Hong Kong. A well-traveled ‘lifestyle designer’, she opened the Sin Sin Atelier in 1998, which features her personally designed collection of Southeast Asian inspired clothing, handbags, and jewelry. She also runs the Sin Sin Fine Art Gallery, which is widely considered to be among the most prominent art galleries in Hong Kong, and represents the best artists from Indonesia and around the world. The Sin Sin Annex, located across from the atelier, displays progressive installation and performance art, and serves as a public space for artist lectures. Sin Sin’s establishments are distinguished as Hong Kong’s only art spaces specializing in Indonesian art.

Also, as though Sin Sin weren’t multi-tasking enough, art lovers traveling to Bali in Indonesia can stay at Villa Sin Sin, Sin Sin’s 3 signature villas designed in collaboration with star-architect Gianni Francione, which surround guests in Balinese art and Indonesian beauty.

But questions remain, what makes this energetic art maven tick? Why is she working with Indonesian art in Hong Kong, and what insight can she offer into the Southeast Asian art scene? Read on for more.

Humble Hong Kong beginnings

Sin Sin now deals in artworks from all around the world and wistfully describes art as the ‘taste of life’, but once upon a time she was a Hong Kong Chinese girl growing up in a Chinese incense-filled temple in the rural mountainous Diamond Hill area of Kowloon, Hong Kong, and lived alongside native clans people.

Born into a devout Catholic family in the late 50’s, she studied at a Catholic school. As far her education beyond that, she is proud to be self-taught and comments, “I wasn’t into academics… I was always involved in creative activities, like acting, dancing, singing… There is an ancient Chinese saying about my approach to education. Roughly translated it means I would rather gain life experience by walking my journey.”

A true free spirit, she says that she always wanted a career in art, but her highly successful career has been spontaneous rather than strategic. She remarks, “I didn’t plan this, you can’t plan.” When she is not making and managing art at her atelier, she can be found performing Chinese opera, practicing calligraphy, or traveling and enjoying life.

Eddie Hara, Yunizar

Left: Monster City, by I Gusti Ngurah Buda, 2007. Middle: Big Mouth Says Nothing, by Eddie Hara, 2005. Right: Frizzy Buddha, by Yunizar, 2004.

Lucky eye for art

She always had a keen eye for art, and her ability to pluck artwork that will appreciate in the future from far-flung galleries is uncanny. She describes her first experience buying art, which was 18 years ago in Vietnam, when she bought a piece for a few hundred US dollars that is now estimated to be worth 30-50 times what she paid:

“Years ago [1991] when I was starting to collect art, I was lucky to see the work of Bùi Xuân Phái in Vietnam. I felt strongly attracted by his work, and wanted to learn more about him… It happens to have appreciated quite a lot, but it is extremely special to me for the way it makes me feel.”

“West is mature, the East is upcoming”

Sin Sin has a connection to multiple places and cultures, including Hong Kong, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, and mainland China. She explains:

“I appreciate the earthiness of these cultures, the simple and beautiful life of the people. Of course I’ve traveled to the States and Europe, but when I was younger the West didn’t speak to my soul yet. Their attitudes are developed, not exciting and new. There is no pleasure in the modern world… In the East there is something new, but under developed. You can feel the suffering and people waiting to be discovered. It speaks more to the soul, more natural, more earthy… West is mature, the East is upcoming.”

Regarding her extensive travels, Sin Sin says, “I love India, Shangri-la, Yunan… Bali and Indonesia was amazing energy for my 20’s, so many people go and never come home. And people there are willing and wanting to do something, there are so many possibilities when things are cheaper. Now there is a different need in my life. I go to places like Tuscany and Switzerland. [Also] there is different energy in Yunan, it is mysterious, powerful, and severe, but in a calm and peaceful way.”

Bob Sick, Eddie Hara, and Putu

Left: Family, by Bob Sick Yudhita, 2007. Middle: Postcards From the Alps 29, by Eddie Hara, 2003. Right: Where Are My Wings, by Putu Sutawijaya, 2007.

Why Indonesian art?

Sin Sin has been cultivating close relationships with Indonesian artists for the past 6 years. She does not speak Indonesian Bahasar yet she does not experience barriers communicating with the artists: “That is part of the beauty between me and the artists, we still understand.”

So why is Sin Sin so interested in Indonesian art? She explains:

“It makes me happy to see them [the artists and communities] grow. They are open, free, and they share. When one artist sells, it is good for the group. I don’t want to say mission- but, I want to share the beauty of this part of the world. I’ve traveled to Indonesia for about 24 years, and I fell in love, even though there are things to hate, like there are in any country. But, I loved the nature and the culture, that it’s between Hindu and Muslim, and it’s so beautiful. Who doesn’t like this? It is full of color, freedom, the beauty of nature, and ceremony. You feel free as a bird.”

The Indonesian Invasion Exhibition

Sin Sin credits curating the Indonesian Invasion exhibition as the favorite project of her career, and it was certainly a significant event in the Asian art world. It stands as the largest and most important survey of contemporary Indonesian art that has ever been shown outside of Indonesia. It took place April 2- May 15, 2008 at the Sin Sin Annex and Atelier, featuring 14 of the most notable Indonesian artists of this generation. Each artist was chosen for his distinct individuality, and most already had prior success selling at auction. The following artists were included:

Bob Sick YudhitaEddie HaraEntang WiharsoI Gusti Ngurah Buda Jumaldi AlfiMuhamad IrfanPande Ketut Taman

Putu SutawijayaRudi MantofaniS. Teddy DarmawanTisna SanjayaUgo UntoroYunizarZulkarnaini

Enin Supriyanto, an Indonesian curator, also contributed to the exhibition with his lecture ‘The Contemporary and Sub-Cultures: A Slice of Indonesian Contemporary Art,’ on March 31, 2008 at the Hong Kong Visual Arts Center. This lecture was recorded and is currently accessible to the public at the Asia Art Archive.  The Indonesian Invasion exhibition was also documented by Roland Hagenberg, and his coverage and artist interviews are available on Youtube.

Kokok sculpture and paintings

Left: Cutting Soldier, by Kokok Sancoko, 2009. Middle: Painting #11, by Kokok Sancoko, 2009. Right: Painting #15, by Kokok Sancoko.

Sin Sin on the Indonesian Art Scene

Q: Which artists do you collect and admire?

“I admire so many… I don’t put myself in a box, like, this is the only kind of work I like- boring! It depends on the message they channel. I like primitive and contemporary. I appreciate ancient things. I would also like to see Western artists inspired by the East, and Eastern artists inspired by the West, but this takes time…”

“Of Indonesian artists, I collect YunizarRudi MantofaniPutu Sutawijaya, S. Teddy Darmawan, and Jumaldi Alfi. Of Chinese artists, I collect Sun Guangyi,  Wong How Man, Wong Yan Kwai, and Niu An (Ann New). Overseas artists in my collection include Rolf Lorenz [UK], and Rick Lewis [USA].”

Q: Who is the most significant Indonesian artist right now?

“I love them all, the beauty is that they are all individual and different. YunizarPutu Sutawijaya, Rudi Mantofani, and Jumaldi Alfi are very established, and their work is difficult to get because they are very hot at the moment… Bob Sick Yudhita is one of a kind. He is a real, true artist, and works in a street art style, like Jean-Michel Basquiat.”

Kokok Sancoko is among the most prominent upcoming artists, and is a great observer. His work gives viewers a lot of room to think.”

S. Teddy Darmawan is an artist who is never afraid of taking risks and making art with many possibilities. There is no doubt of Teddy’s passion to the art world.”

Sin Sin describes a big jump in the Indonesian art scene recently (in the past 2-3 years) and for the first time is seeing interest from the West and overseas. Coincidentally, Indonesia was classified as a ‘Next 11’ country by Goldman Sachs in 2005, a country with a newly emerging economy with optimistic outlook for investment. Sin Sin agrees these shifts in world affairs ‘obviously’ appear to correspond to the contemporary art market, because citizens are finally becoming monied enough to purchase their own cultural symbols, and the international profile of a country rises and gains esteem among other nations, which will also purchase the artwork from that country. Hence, Indonesian art is finally making its way to New York City.

Q: Who are the professionals you most admire and enjoy working with in Indonesian art?

Enin Supriyanto, a curator of Indonesian art. He knows it and is supportive, and gives his honest idea.

Q: Which institutions do you recommend to art lovers in Indonesia?

Komaneka Fine Art Gallery in Bali, a casual Ubud gallery, and the Nadi Fine Art Gallery in Jakarta.

Q: Where are most Indonesian artists educated?

The most artists are in Jogja [Yogyakarta, also Jogja, Yogya, Jogjakart], and the school is there [Indonesian Institute of the Arts]. Most artists are trained at this one school.

Q: I noticed your formal title on your website is ‘Lifestyle Creator’. What is a lifestyle creator?

I’m involved in all aspects of creative design. Sometimes I’m a curator, a designer, and sometimes I feel like a producer when I put so much of my energy into a project. Who am I, then? Call me an artist, a creator.

Q: What future projects are you excited about?

Something I’m planning, but can’t speak on yet. I’m also interested in creating a show overseas. It is a beauty for people to see another part of the world like this. I’m looking for the right gallery, and I’m ready to see what we can collaborate overseas. I am based here to contribute something to my society, but I’m sure my artists want to go further, and I’d like to take them far away. I’d like to take the East to the West to show the new vision of the East. As a Hong Kong Chinese, I want to introduce this artwork, because I believe people want to know things but do not have access. Or maybe people want to know but don’t know who to talk to. Maybe I can have a contribution here.

Sin Sin’s Advice

For artists starting out:

Starting is easy! It’s like a honeymoon. If you decided, don’t give up, because it will be difficult. But I would say to artists from China, Laos, Indonesia… Why do you want to do this? Everyone discourages an artist, and being a 100% artist is so hard. They want to be free, okay, but everything comes with a price. This is the choice. It is a difficult way to go, especially in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s history is less than 50 years as a developed city, since the 1960’s. But now, art helps people… Now is like a revolution, and people should focus on life and have more energy.

For artists approaching galleries:

Do research, see what work the gallery represents and if your work matches. Then you can approach by sending something, pictures.

For new collectors:

Well, I don’t know the stock market, but if I want to buy a stock, I’d go to a good broker. If I want to buy art, I’d go to a gallery with a collection that is appealing to me, and start there.

The Sin Sin Atelier and Annex is located at 52-53 Sai Street, in Central Hong Kong, and the Sin Sin Fine Art Gallery is at 1 Prince’s Terrace, Mid-levels, Hong Kong.

-contributed by Erin Wooters

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Overview Indonesian art – Only 5 of 50 auctionable artists today will have lasting value

Posted by artradar on March 2, 2009


INDONESIAN CONTEMPORARY ART HISTORY

This long – save it for lunch-time! –  informative reportage piece written in 2008 is about the history of Indonesian contemporary art up to and including the 2008 art boom. Michael Vatikiotis employs anecdotes, artist interviews and on the ground research to describe  key influences and players. A surprising finding is that dealers and collectors are saying that only five artists will have lasting value which Vatikiotis points out ” is not a legacy in a country of more than two hundred and thirty million people”.

Putu Sutawijaya

Putu Sutawijaya

Riding the Indonesian art boom

Jogjakarta a city of artists

Jogjakarta is a city of artists. On every corner of Central Java’s ancient royal city there is an aspiring painter with good reasons to be hopeful. A handful of painters have sold their work at auction for tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Used to Being Stripped, a painting by Nyoman Masriadi, a native of Bali who lives in the city, fetched US$538,000 at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong in May 2008. ‘It used to be that parents cried when their children said they wanted to be artists, well not anymore,’ says Agus Suwage, a local artist whose works have been shown internationally and now command hundred thousand dollar prices at auction.

Indonesian art holds its value

Jogjakarta’s art boom is part of an Asia-wide trend that has seen the value of contemporary art from countries like India, China, Vietnam and the Philippines as well as Indonesia soar to phenomenal heights on the back of fears
about inflation and the security of more liquid assets. In May last year, the hammer went down on a painting by the popular Chinese artist Zheng Fanzhi for US$9.7 million at a Christie’s auction in Hong Kong. The global financial crisis
that set in towards the end of 2008 has badly affected the Chinese art boom, but dealers in South-East Asia say that so far prices for Indonesian art have held up well because art remains a refuge for investors fleeing stocks.

Jogja’s bizarre political landscape

Jogja is a sprawling medium-sized Indonesian city of three million people steeped in the tradition of Javanese kingship. Sultan Hamengkubuwono X rules the city and its immediate area in one of the more bizarre autonomy
arrangements – a feudal king holds sway over a tiny part of a modern republic. Indonesians don’t see a contradiction; the current Sultan’s father, Hamengkubuwono IX, played a central role in the anti-colonial struggle and was briefly
vice president of the republic. The current Sultan has presidential aspirations.

Jogja produces avant-garde art alongside traditional

Although a thoroughly modern ruler in many ways – he is very fond of square dancing – the Sultan presides over a culture that resists change. The people of Jogja revere him, wearing traditional long batik sarongs with delicately decorated daggers placed in the small of their backs on formal occasions. They believe in the dark mysteries of Javanese mythology – that the Sultan communes with the Goddess of the Southern Seas to keep the forces of nature in
balance. Yet this exquisitely preserved-in-aspic city produces some of the more avant-garde modern artists of South-East Asia and has turned some into relative millionaires.

Colonial past sustains Indonesian artisanship

Jogja is more than a relic. The city is one of the very few cities in the region with a heritage that is preserved – under royal patronage – with tourism in mind, of course. Restored Dutch colonial era buildings and old royal residences
have become offices and hotels. This has helped sustain a lively artisan community.
Mas Sugeng, who has meticulously created wayang kulit shadow puppets out of buffalo hide since he learnt the art from his father as a child, considers himself ‘a craftsmen rather than an artist’ as I admire the breathtaking handpainted colour and carved detail on his delicately created images of Rama and Sita.

The modern artists reflect a transition from the talent of artisans like Mas Sugeng to the modern art the world seems to want to buy – at ridiculous prices.

Ten years ago, Jogja visitors were led down narrow alleyways to view stacks of unspectacular batik paintings gathering dust in disorderly garrets hugging the whitewashed palace walls. The motifs veered wildly from the earthy traditional to lurid pop; Hanuman and Arjuna rubbed shoulders with Bob Marley and Che Guevara. Serious painting was something young people went to Bali to pursue. Today, Balinese artists flock to Jogja, where artists’ studios are now on the tourist map.

Early interest in Indonesian contemporary art dates to beginning of 90s

The boom came suddenly. Early interest in contemporary Indonesian art dates back to the go-go capitalism in the early 1990s. Indonesia was just opening up and a new class of wealthy private entrepreneurs had cash to spend. Many of the wealthiest people in Indonesia are ethnic Chinese. Buying Indonesian art was a way of demonstrating national loyalty. Galleries in Jakarta did brisk business; the art was mostly relatively conservative expressionists drawing on
traditional themes – the whirling Balinese dancers of Srihadi Soedarsono, the demure Javanese maidens of Jiehan Sukmantara – decorative living room art, not the stuff of fortunes.

Effect of economic crisis 1997 and  fall of Suharto 1998

The local art market collapsed with the 1997 economic crisis. So did the political order. The seeds of the current art boom were sown in the political chaos and mayhem that accompanied the fall of Indonesia’s strongman President
Suharto in May 1998. Tastes in art changed, almost overnight. A fondness for decoration and curios was replaced by gritty, hard-edged socially engaged art.

Birth of hard-edged social art during transition to democracy

The movement reflected the profound changes in society unleashed by reformasi, Indonesia’s transition to democracy. ‘What reformasi actually gave Indonesians was access to intellectual thinking,’ Farah Wardani, a Jogja-based curator, told me as we sat in the forecourt of Indonesian Visual Art Archive, a foundation set up to document the development of fine art.

Cemeti Art House set up 1998

Jogja’s artists were already socially engaged but no one took them seriously enough to buy their work, which was considered risky and troubling before Suharto fell. Many of the artists were part of the student movement pushing for political change. Cemeti Art House, established in 1998 by Dutch artist Mella Jaarsma and her Javanese husband and collaborator Nindityo Adipurnomo, played a critical role in fostering these politically engaged artists.

Mella,a practising artist who specialises in installations and performance art, and Nindityo encouraged many of the artists who are major names today with exhibitions from the late 1980s. Their ability to fly under the official radar for
performances and exhibitions that were plainly subversive can be attributed, Mella says, to poorly educated intelligence operatives who didn’t understand what they were looking at.

Political art broke with traditional
Their politically engaged art broke with the decorative and traditional past. Art was no longer for tourists. It drew inspiration from the angry graffiti scrawled on city walls, was transferred to gritty comic books, circulated
in crudely stapled photocopied editions of a thousand or so and finally ended up on the canvases of students at Jogja’s prestigious Indonesian Institute of Art (ISI).

Popok Triwahyudi

Popok Triwahyudi

Popok Triwahyudi – cartoon style

Popok Triwahyudi is typical of the socially engaged Jogja artists. Many started out on the streets sketching for a living, touting tourists and singing themselves hoarse in rowdy late-night gatherings over a shared bowl of noodles and endless cups of insipid Javanese tea. Popok still looks like the street artist he once was. His tangle of curly black hair hasn’t been brushed in days and he sleeps on a bed that he folds up and puts away. Popok studied painting
at ISI in the 1990s. His first solo exhibition, Shut Up, was held at Cemeti in 1997. His cartoon-like figures depict grim and unrelenting repression. There is something Breugel-esque in the way Popok conveys the darkness and despair
in people’s lives – and then, with a touch of Roy Lichtenstein, he draws speech bubbles and his characters express this despair.
When I met Popok he was at work in his studio on a cartoon series on intercultural misunderstanding developed in collaboration with a German art house. Before he sold his first painting in the boom market, he rented a single
room; today he has taken over the premises and installed a heavy press so he can roll off graphic prints. A new Powerbook is perched on a desk in his studio, bought by the Germans. Popok looks perpetually surprised, as if he simply can’t believe that he can now indulge his creative urges and make a living.

Eko Nugroho

Eko Nugroho

Eko Nugroho
A little further out of the city, near the old Dutch sugar factory, Eko Nugroho’s modest little home in the middle of a farming village is hardly evidence of his remarkable success. Like Popok, Eko studied at ISI in the late 1990s. His
father was a newspaper delivery man for Jogja’s daily newspaper, Kedaulatan Rakyat. Eko’s first drawings were published as cartoons in the paper. His family was so poor he only found the money to pay for his first year at ISI by
winning a local cartoon contest.
Eko’s style is distinctive. Like Popok, he draws inspiration from cartoons. His characters, usually etched in black on coloured backdrops, are disembodied creatures, part-machine, part-animal, rarely unambiguously human ‘People lost in freedom,’ his website declares.

Like Popok, Eko also got his break at Cemeti. ‘There used to be a lot of galleries, but they only catered to traditional art and weren’t interested in what I had to say through my paintings,’ Eko says. ‘Cemeti did the avant-garde stuff.’ By 2005, his highly original caricatures were selling for upwards of US$2,000. By the beginning of 2008, quite modest-sized canvases were selling for more than US$30,000. Eko, who is thirty-one, has been invited to art fairs and residencies in Europe, China, the United States and Singapore.

Indonesian-Chinese art collectors

Most of the buyers of this modern art, by comparatively young and inexperienced artists, are still Indonesian – especially wealthy Indonesian-Chinese business people. Many are not Jakarta based, but from East and Central Java, home to some of the richest Indonesian-Chinese families. One major collector is Dr Oei Hong Djin, whose family owns the profi table Djarum Group – producers of a variety of consumer goods like clove cigarettes, televisions and spectacle frames, and owners of a major retail chain. Oei Hong Djin has been collecting Jogja artists for years – a sizable caricature at a major city intersection honours his continued patronage.

Soaring art prices

In part because Indonesian-Chinese interest in contemporary Indonesian art was the principal driver of the boom, there is a suspicion that what lay behind the soaring prices was not the intrinsic value of the art. Farah Wardani, who trained at Goldsmith’s College at the University of London, is frankly appalled at the prices. ‘Look, I don’t mind poppish eye candy, but not for US$20,000. It’s becoming more expensive than Prada.’ Old Indonesian masters like Affandi and Hendra Gunawan fetched high prices at auctions, but some of the young Jogja artists are selling for more. ‘It’s scary,’ says Farah.

Odeck Ariawan, a Balinese friend of mine who collects art and was also spooked by the boom. ‘I have no way of telling
whether what I am buying is going to be worth anything in the future.’ Farah’s frustration as a curator and Odeck’s caution as a buyer are driven by Indonesia’s paucity of established art criticism. Most curators work for private
galleries where commercial, not critical, considerations prevail. ‘It used to take an artist twenty years to reach an established level,’ Farah says. ‘Today you have young artists selling their first paintings for thousands of dollars.’

Indonesian art market manipulation
There is a lot more than art appreciation involved. One theory is that the buyers were looking for a safe place to park their money in an inflationary environment, another that paying cash for art requires less scrutiny than buying
property. There are stories of buyers who arrange for a painting to be put in an auction, and bid up the price to raise the value of the artist – having first bought up the rest of the artist’s production. The process is called goreng goreng
– Indonesian for ‘to fry’. ‘This is moving in the direction of becoming an industry,’ Farah complains. ‘Artists are being asked to produce on demand.’

Putu Sutawijaya – one of top 5 artists
The way the market works outrages many curators, who like to think they are the arbiters of fine art. Even artists are discomfited. Putu Sutawijaya was one of the first young artists to see his work reach phenomenal prices at auction.
Putu has the friendly nonchalance of the Balinese. He struggled for a decade after finishing his studies at ISI. By 2003, he recalls, he was selling paintings for two thousand dollars at most. Then in April 2008 one of his paintings sold
at an auction in Singapore for fifteen times its expected price. Looking for Wings was bid up from a reserve price of eight thousand Singapore dollars to reach one hundred and twenty thousand. Putu responded to his sudden wealth by
rolling up his paintings and hiding them. ‘I was worried. I felt all this pressure to sell for the same high price but what if my work is no good? That’s why I put away some paintings, just in case.’ Success has brought new opportunities
undreamed of in the local context. He spent two weeks in Beijing last year with his own booth at a major art fair and has secured a residency there. He is one of the top five painters in Jogja but fame and status have brought stress.
‘Before, I dreamed of being a well-known artist. Now I’m afraid of disappointment and failure.’

Impact of Valentine Willie, Malaysian art dealer

Valentine Willie, a Malaysian art dealer whose auctions in Singapore helped spark the boom, echoes these concerns. ‘When these artists were unknown they could experiment. They were free to make mistakes. Now they can’t afford to disappoint their buyers and this means they cannot change their style. It puts limits on their creative spirit.’
The art is losing its political edge. Popok’s social tableaux seem more optimistic and Eko’s fantastic automatons are becoming less menacing and cuddlier, set against warm pastel shades.

Art losing its political edge

Agus Suwage’s early work was intended to shock,like his inspiring installation The Final Journey which featured pigs’ skulls on roller skates. Today his themes seem almost sensual: a foot-sucking self-portrait in pink. A lot of the large Masriadi canvases going for high prices tend to be more or less variations on a standard theme – a procession of muscular bodies, male and female, in lurid outfits and provocative poses – a distant cry from his earlier socially engaged work.

The art is also growing in size. Collectors like to buy big and the painters are obliging, with Masriadi‘s, Agus Suwage’s and Putu‘s canvases often more than four square metres. The once socially-engaged artists are slowly becoming financially engaged to their buyers. There is a downside.

New art spaces supporting young artists

If you ask Agung Kurniawan, an artist who is emulating Cemeti with his own art space supporting young artists, the boom was bad, creating as many bankrupts as it did millionaires. ‘I have known many people suddenly get very rich and then just as suddenly they are poor again,’ he tells me as he prepares for his own solo exhibition in The Netherlands. But while I failed to meet any victims of the boom, most of the beneficiaries expressed concern about the future and humility that is characteristic of mainstream Javanese culture.
Putu believes in giving back to the local community. He and his Malaysian-Chinese wife Jenny have established an Art Space in the Nitiprayan district of the city where young artists can exhibit. ‘People struggle to find wall space in this city,’ says Putu, who has bought another piece of land nearby to expand.

Eko Nugroho takes his modesty to absurd lengths, but then his poor boy roots taught him to start sharing the wealth as soon as he earned it. One of the first things he did was to rebuild his neighbour’s house. Eko’s fondness for large, elaborately embroidered tapestries means he now employs dozens of skilled weavers. He has several assistants who help him with sculptures and installations. ‘They are not just helpers, I train them too,’ he says with an honest
smile. ‘I like working as a team; I find painting is too solitary.’ Eko is also the founder of a photocopied biannual art journal called Daging Tumbuh, which offers struggling young artists a chance to have their work showcased for free.
He distributes the journal to galleries and dealers in Jakarta as well as Jogja.

Art turns away from Islam

Flipping through Daging Tumbuh brings home another stark reality of the art boom: in a country regarded by most outsiders as sliding inexorably towards Islamic conservative rule, the young artists of Jogja are moving in the other direction. Agus Purnomo’s abstract canvases use all sorts of numeric and alphabetic symbols but he is reluctant to use Arabic calligraphy. They are catering to a non-Muslim market, but to be among them and see their art and how it has progressed is more of a challenge to one’s knowledge of Japanese and Western pop culture than the finer points of Muslim culture – more Ultraman than Mohammad.

Then there are those artists on the way up. I arrive at Stefan Buana’s modest home on the outskirts of the city. Canvases litter every room and an assistant is busy stretching fresh canvas on wooden frames. Stefan has a show in a month and is feverishly finishing a new collection of paintings. The West Sumatraborn painter has spent a long time toiling for success. Now his paintings fetch enough to pay for his collection of antique Harley Davidson motorcycles.

Yet Stefan isn’t so popular that he is a prisoner of the style that sells. He experiments with texture and material, plastering his canvases with sawdust, creating relief images with staples, cotton thread and even heavy pieces of scrap iron. Politics is an enduring theme for artists like Stefan, whose studio is littered with the broadly smiling visage of former Indonesian President Abdurahhman Wahid, who is fondly known as Gus Dur. Stefan beats old frying woks into the former president’s round faced image because, as he puts it, ‘Gus Dur believed in equality and welfare for all’.

Suharto as a theme
Former President Suharto is another surprising theme. Putu Sutawijaya is planning a series on the late dictator, who died in February 2008. Stefan Buana has created a two metre high stencilled image of Suharto by punching through an inch-thick iron sheet with a blow torch. The image is oddly flattering and recalls the contemporary Chinese love affair with pictures of Mao. This fascination with political leaders is a by-product of the politicised student activism these artists experienced. Perhaps in the new era of genuine democracy, they miss having someone to pillory.


Pop art culture collides with anti-Americanism

Young artists like Lugas Syllabus make success look easy. This fresh-faced native of Palembang who turned twenty-one in 2008 was about to embark on his first solo show in Singapore and looked forward to participating in the Brisbane Art Expo ‘Exist in 08′ that took place in October 2008. He is drawn to performance art and talks excitedly about his installation ‘Pinky and the Bush’. The pop culture Lugas grew up with infuses his imagery but then collides head on with the anti-Americanism spawned by the Bush administration’s war on terror. Fibreglass models of Pinky the white rat, from the cartoon series, and a smaller rat with a Bush-like visage are packed in Styrofoam and
ready to be shipped for his show. On his brand-new laptop, Lugas excitedly describes how the Bush-faced figure dances around a lit globe to the original Pinky and the Brain’s soundtrack. A series of images flash on to his laptop
screen: a killer whale in the desert, an ostrich in a snow drift. The images are edgy and expressive; the colours vivid, almost fluorescent. Nothing is meticulously drawn or detailed. There is something hallucinatory about them. ‘I like
contradictions,’ Lugas says simply, toggling between the laptop and a brand new mobile phone.

Arts management challenges

There is more, much more to see in Jogja; daily exhibitions and performances are announced on notice boards at Cemeti or Kedai Kebun, where Agung Kurniawan has his space. All this activity has generated a need for management. Most of the artists are either too young or too overwhelmed by rapid success to figure out the complexities of commissions and handling their collectors or dealers. Heri Pamed, a Jogja-based dealer, says that one of the artists
he helps, a stick-thin character covered in tattoos who calls himself Bob Sick, isn’t much of a help. ‘Bob Sick sells everything and then gives a lot of his work to friends, so his prices are coming down.’

Help is on the way. In a back room of a spacious house in the south of the city, several young boys are attaching brightly coloured lace brocade to small fibreglass replicas of Michelangelo’s David. It is laborious work and for Titarubi the Bandung-born artist who calls her show ‘Surrounding David’ it appears to represent a significant statement on manhood. When not wrapping David in coloured fabric, Titarubi – who is married to Agus Suwage – is setting up iCan, Jogya’s first arts management company. iCan has only been operating for
a month, so only two artists have signed up but Titarubi hopes to attract the younger talent eager to cash in on the boom more efficiently.

By now I am feeling a little bit like Farah Wardani: I’m not sure all this art is going to make it and is worth the asking price. The real test will be how many of these artists will we be hanging in national galleries and museums in a few
years. Until Indonesia acquires a more respected track record of critical appreciation and better museums and galleries, it is unlikely that any of them will be revered and remembered – some of the best works by Raden Saleh, Indonesia’s nineteenth century virtuoso portrait painter, hang to this day in The Netherlands.

Only 5 Indonesian artists will survive

The dealers and collectors I meet suggest that only a handful, no more than five of the fifty or so currently enjoying success at auction or through gallery sales, stand out as artists of lasting value. Jogjakarta may be a city of ten thousand artists, but five is not a legacy in a country of more than two hundred and thirty million people. Back in his little house behind the palace, I ask Mas Sugeng the puppet maker whether he sees his craft surviving. ‘Oh yes,’ he answers quite emphatically, ‘but not at quite the same level of skill. People simply aren’t willing to pay as much anymore for handicrafts.’

Michael Vatikiotis spent a week in Jogjakarta in 2008 to research this article. His story ‘In pursuit of faith’ appeared in Griffith REVIEW 18: In the Neighbourhood and is reproduced with permission.

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