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Posts Tagged ‘Mella Jaarsma’

Nindityo Adipurnomo talks with Art Radar on “+Road” collaboration with Myanmar artists, “gambling spirit” of Indonesian collectors

Posted by artradar on July 21, 2010


ART PROFESSIONAL INTERVIEW INDONESIAN ART EVENTS

In an Art Radar Asia exclusive interview with Cemeti founder Nindityo Adipurnomo, we hear the fascinating story of their latest venture working collaboratively with artists from Myanmar.  Read on to learn how cultural conflicts and artistic disappointments were eventually resolved.

New Zero Art Space in Myanmar and Cemeti Art House in Indonesia joined hands in June this year to present the collaborative project and exhibition “+Road|5 Myanmar Artists + 5 Jogja Artists in Yogyakarta.

Within a tight schedule of two weeks, five Burmese artists and five Indonesian artists interacted and produced performances, videos and installations.

These creations acted as a language through which the two distinctive cultures could communicate their differences, resolve conflicts and move closer to mutual understanding.

The five participating Myanmar artists included Aye Ko, (Executive Director of New Zero Art Space), May Moe Thu, Htoo Aung Kyaw, Nwe (Thin Lei Nwe) and Zoncy (Zon Sapal Phyu). The five Indonesian artists were Doger Panorsa, Ikhsan Syahirul Alim (Ican), Restu Ratnaningtyas, Ristyanto Cahyo Wibowo and Wibowo Adi Utama.

To understand more about how the collaborative project came into being, how the event was viewed by the local art community, and to gain some insight into the Indonesian art scene, Art Radar Asia spoke with Nindityo Adipurnomo, one of the executive directors of Cemeti Art House.

+Road| 5 Myanmar Artists + 5 Jogja Artists, a collaborative exhibition currently being held at Indonesian art gallery, Cemeti Art House.

From a commercial art promotion to a cross-cultural art exchange project

Nindityo Adipurnomo explained that the idea of collaboration between the two art spaces was initiated by Aye Ko, Myanmar artist and director of New Zero Art Space and Community New Zero Art Space. Ko thought that, by hosting a project of this kind, New Zero Art Space might land an exchange grant from the Asian Cultural Council in New York. With this in mind, Ko proposed the idea to Mella Jaarsma and Nindityo Adipurnomo, co-owners/coordinators of the renowned Indonesian gallery Cemeti Art House and winners of the 2006 John D. Rockefeller 3rd Awards, who expressed a keen interest.

Art censored in Burma

The couple saw “+Road” as an excellent opportunity to develop networks within regions such as Myanmar. They had learnt much from New Zero Art Space and they had been seeking opportunities to cooperate with them since attending the New Zero Art Space organised 2007 ASEAN Contemporary Art Exchange Program, an event open only to members of the space. Of the programme, Adipurnomo recalled how each of the artists, gallery owners and art activists who participated had to bring along a single painting of a limited size with no political message. The night before the event, the Burmese police came and censored the art works on display, and removed the works of four Burmese artists. Despite this horrific episode, the programme was fruitful; each of the art activists present conducted informative talks.

In addition, “+Road”‘s aims were in line with the project-based platform Cemeti Art House has been working under since the beginning of 2010. This new platform focuses on an alternative approach to art and society in Indonesia. They have a successful model to follow; Landing Soon (2006-2009) was a three year exchange program in which one Dutch artist and one Indonesian artist resided in Yogyakarta and received assistance, guidance, and support from the studio manager through weekly progress reports.

“The reason [for launching the new platform] was because we were fed up with all the exhibition models, art fairs, auctions in Indonesia; [these events] never pay attention to invest in a kind of  healthy regeneration of the art scene. No, I’m one hundred percent sure that they do not realise this. The Indonesian commercial art scene has been investing in promotion only.” Nindityo Adipurnom

Conflicting goals of Burmese and Indonesians

However, it turned out Aye Ko wasn’t thinking about the kind of collaborative exhibition Adipurnomo had in mind. Basically, he just wanted to use Cemeti’s exhibition space for a group exhibition of five Myanmar artists and five Indonesian artists, where published catalogues could distributed. His commercial approach to the collaboration, which did not aim to provide any platform for meaningful interactions among artists, was certainly not what Cemeti Art House wanted.

“We did not want to only organise a promotional exhibition that has no interesting curatorial subject, not being involved in how artists go through their process before presenting their works in exhibition. And so we, in the end, asked [the artists] to just come to Yogyakarta; not bring any paintings with them. Instead, each of [the artists] should be well prepared with an individual artwork presentation in Power Point to see what we can do together.” Nindityo Adipurnomo

Jaarsma and Adipurnomo tried carefully to intervene and transform the  cooperation into a “mutual exchange project” instead: a program involving short events such as artists’ talks, discussions, workshops and master classes, allowing both groups of artists to understand each other better and create possibilities for a deeper collaboration, with an exhibition as the end goal. And in Jaarsma and Adipurnomo’s eyes, it was a success. “+Road” became a truly collaborative project for the ten artists involved, where they could engage themselves in intensive cultural exchanges and meaningful interactions.

Mix of talents strongly affects resulting artwork

The choice of the five Burmese artists and the five Indonesian artists was made separately by New Zero Art Space and Cemeti Art House respectively. Adipurnomo launched an open application, attracting nearly seventy artists, and selected five from this group. He admits to being disappointed with the choice made by New Zero Art Space. Among the five Burmese artists, only two were professional artists, while the rest of them were new members of New Zero Art Space and were very amateur beginners. In contrast, the Yogyakarta artists selected by Cemeti Art House had a lot professional experience.

Disappointment at Cemeti

“[The Burmese artists] are bad painters: they cannot draw, have no sense of colour and have, in fact, a very superficial sense of  exploring materials… While our local Yogyakarta artists you can see, … that they were very well trained academically, strong and skillfull in model drawings, sketches, colours, well experienced in treating materials with good sense.” Nindityo Adipurnomo

Burmese artists favour performance art, political art

Although the Burmese artists were generally inexperienced painters, their strength lay in performance art, an artistic skill which the Yogyakarta artists were either still developing or not interested in exploring.

“My very personal observation was that the artists from Yangoon were very much into performance art. They are very direct, expressive and always fulled of political intentions in their performance. They really use their body as the most direct tool and medium…. It often becomes a physical movement that is very close to a dance performance. One of our local artists participating in this project was [hesitant] to join the workshop on performance!” Nindityo Adipurnomo

This mix of opposing artistic strengths, differences which became very apparent during the workshops, influenced what was produced for the exhibition finale. “+Road” showcased a lot of video works and photographs, and a smaller number of installation and performance pieces, with no paintings at all.

Zon Sapal Phyu's 'Revolution of Own Space' (mixed media).

Aye Ko's 'No Money, Hungry, Hard Eating' (photography, video).

Wibowo Adi Utama's 'Art-NARCHY' (video).

Ikhsan Syahirul Alim's 'Commando Dance' (video, karaoke).

More opportunities open up future collaboration

Overall, Cemeti Art House viewed the collaboration as a successful pilot project, achieving its aim of engaging artists from two cultures in interactions that led to a gradual mutual understanding.

“[The] major understanding [the artists] did have was cultural dialogues. This is something that I find you can not just improvise in an Internet facilitation. You really need to [be] facing each other. Building up your assumptions, making a lot of missunderstandings and opening up conflicts, so that in the end you will understand each other better. We did ask every Indonesian artist to be a partner everyday by sitting on the same motorcycle – one motorcycle for two artists – during the two week intensive dialogue…. The time was just too short for so many reasons. But now we know better how to handle and open up more networks with young artists, who are really willing to continue in a deeper context.” Nindityo Adipurnomo

Working towards a healthy regeneration of the Indonesian contemporary art scene

Adipurnomo considers Cemeti Art House to be ground-breaking in promoting a healthy regeneration of the Indonesian contemporary art scene, which has grown largely commercially up to this point. From “rumours and a very quick-glimpse analyzation and observation”, he suggests that banks have been gaining control of the Indonesian art market.

Banking money makes a mark in the Indonesian art market

“In the beginning, [art] was dominated by rich people around the tobacco industry. Of course, Dr. Oei Hong Djien was the respected ‘pioneer’ of the Indonesian collectors, among many others who were more nationally known; Dr. Oei Hong Djien is going international quickly. He was also very generous in educating and influencing many other rich Chinese people in the tobacco industry to invest their capital in art. Starting from that mile stone, Indonesian art dealers and collectors [were] growing fast. Most of [these collectors] were hunting names instead of, you know, a ‘quality’. They created many kinds of tricks in order to get as many ‘big names’ as possible, which they could easily call ‘masterpiece’ makers. Auctions and art fairs were becoming a medium for them to gamble in so many tricky ways. This rapid growth of gambling spirit stimulated many other rich people, out of this tobacco industry, to borrow money from banks to join this gambling. That is the way banks are now getting involved. A lot of bankers started to invest their capital in the arts.” Nindityo Adipurnomo

New Jogyakarta Art Fair attracts outside collectors

With the opening of the Jogyakarta Art Fair recently, art dealers and bankers, many of whom had never visited the region before, flocked to Cemeti Art House to see what was happening. This is, perhaps, further evidence that the Indonesian arts scene is commercialising.

“Cemeti Art House is considered to be ground-breaking in promoting a healthy regeneration of the art scene. We have only been ‘fighting’ for that faith for so long. Of course, we are not the only ones. There are many others, such us Ruang Rupa in Jakarta, and the new comers like JARF (Jatiwangi Artists in Residence Festival), Forum Lenteng, and many other smaller scale [organisations] who come up and disappear and come up with different formulas [only] to dissappear again.” Nindityo Adipurnomo

CBKM/KN/KCE

Related Topics: Myanmar artists, Indonesian artists, art spaces, collaborative art

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Historically important Indonesian gallery Cemeti closes…to change focus

Posted by artradar on May 12, 2009


INDONESIAN ART GALLERY

Update: 14 May 2009

As rumours swirl in the blogosphere, we are pleased to report that there is a more nuanced story to the Cemeti closure. Mella Jaarsma at Cemeti Art House tells us that the closing will be temporary and will be followed by a change in focus.

We will close cemeti from 1 August till 1 November, because we are going to build some studios. The idea is that we are not going to continue our monthly changing exhibitions, but we will continue and focus more on residency programs and special projects. So we will still do exhibitions and presentations, but we hope to have more time on developing specific projects, publications etc.

Thanks and best wishes, Mella
We thank Mella and contributors for helping us clarify this report and wish Cemeti all the best as it changes focus.

_________________________

 

 

With sadness we learn that the acclaimed Indonesian gallery Cemeti Art House is to close this summer.

The artist husband and wife team Nindityo Adipurnomo and Mella Jaarsma who founded the Yogyakarta-based gallery in 1988,  has made an unparalleled contribution to the development of Indonesian contemporary art.

In 2006 the couple was awarded the prestigious John D. Rockefeller 3rd award for Professional Achievement for their commitment to developing Indonesian artists. The annual award is presented by the New York-based Asian Cultural Council to individuals from Asia and the United States who have made a particularly significant contribution to art in Asia.

What Mella and Nindityo  – the first Indonesian recipients of the Award – cared about was how to accommodate new and alternative creativity that did not have a chance in well-established art galleries. Being artists themselves they knew the pain of unrecognised creations and took it upon themselves to establish such a space so necessary to young upcoming artists.

Part of the house they were renting in Yogyakarta became the Cemeti Gallery which came to play a key role in the shaping of a virtually new generation of artists in Yogyakarta and beyond. It was here that now renowned artists like Heri Dono, Edi Hara, IGAK Murniasih (Murni) started their rise to fame.

What made Cemeti different from other galleries was that it was non-commercial, that the gallery owners continued to be engaged with artists after their exhibition closed and introduced artists to an increasingly wider network within and outside Indonesian borders.

This included keeping up with the artist’s creative development, updating their biodata and recommending them for scholarships, participation in biennials and triennials, and sending them to artist residencies and exchanges, and organizing stimulating projects.

It was of cardinal importance that Jaarsma and Nindityo maintained impeccable management of the gallery and its activities. Over time, they became the most trustworthy resource for local artists to enter the international art world.

Jakarta Post Nov 12 2006

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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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Seismic changes in Indonesian art scene since 2007 Borobodur auction

Posted by artradar on December 12, 2008


Jompet Kuswidananto

Jompet Kuswidananto

 

 

ART SCENE INDONESIA

As a side event of the Christie’s autumn sales, a lecture called “Keep on Watching! The Yogyakartan Art Scene Today” was given on 29 November 2008 by Cemeti Art House gallerist Mella Jaarsma. 

Today the Indonesian art scene is driven by the private sector  because of an almost total absence of art infrastructure and government support. Until 2007, the art scene in Indonesia was also overlooked by the international markets. For many years art production was driven purely by the desire for self expression  but since 2007 there have been some profound changes in the motivation, interests and techniques of artists, Mella Jaarsma explained.

Start of Indonesian art boom:  Borobodur auction Singapore October 2007

The Borobodur auction organised in collaboration with dealer Valentine Willie from Malaysia and held in Singapore less than eighteen months ago, was a turning point. Valentine Willie included contemporary works from Southeast Asia in the sale and produced a comprehensive accompanying catalogue explaining artists’ concepts and giving reviews of each Southeast Asian country.  Almost all the works were sold, many to non-Indonesian buyers. This had a powerful effect on the significant Indonesian collectors who already had a tradition of buying Modern Indonesian artists: now they were persuaded of the worth in contemporary Indonesian art too.

Impact on galleries: new galleries opening

As a result of the new market in contemporary art, many new galleries have been opening in Yogyakarta and the capital Jakarta. All the galleries are chasing the same artists however and in order to secure the best-selling artists, they pay high fees to ‘independent curators’ to secure the works of the ‘right’ artists. But the high fees demanded by the curators to bring in desired artists create a self-perpetuating dynamic which demands that galleries attract top-selling art just to survive. This means there is little interest by galleries in showing experimental or less marketable work.

Impact on curatorship: higher status but less independence

One of the positive repercussions of this art market ecology is that curators are now being given more status and opportunities: they get to travel (for example to art fairs) and to publish (in catalogues, books and art magazines). But in their role as paid brokers or middlemen between galleries and artists, they lose the independence which is commonly regarded as a valuable aspect of curatorship.

Impact on young artists: poor bio data

Young artists fresh from art institutes are hopping from one exhibition to the other and are only producing works when invited for a show and according to the theme set by the curator. They are losing the opportunity to develop a unique vision and their own body of work. Some artists cannot even produce biodata as they skip opportunities for residencies and biennales in favour of producing directly for collectors via galleries.

These practices are in marked contrast to those of the mid-career artists such as Heri Dono, Agus Suwage, Ugo Untoro who work in studios, research and experiment. They produce difficult-to-sell works such as installations, performances and posters in addition to their marketable pieces.

New art: fast food

Most of the young artists belong to art communities which are related to specific media:

  • Mes56 – photography
  • Daging Tumbuh – comics
  • Mulyakarya  – comics
  • Jogja Mural Forum – street art
  • Grafis Minggiran – print-making
  • Vivid Animix – animation, comics
  • Gas – print-making, design
  • Pisangseger – print-making
  • Simponi – fiber and textile

In Mella Jaarsma’s view the concerns and activities of young Indonesian artists mirror those of young artists throughout Asia:

“These young artists engage in safe play with little introspection and the works produced are often sweet, non-critical and ready to be consumed….It is an observation true all over Asia. Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez, a curator and writer from Manila, calls this new generation image-crafters and object makers of fast food art.”

Jaarsma then ended the lecture with an encouraging series of images of works by young artists who are, despite all, developing their own unique oeuvre such as Jompet Kuswidananto whose work Java’s Machine Phantasmagoria has been shown at the Yokahama Trienniale 2008 and is now on show at Cemeti.

Agree or disagree? What do you think of Indonesian art? Why not leave a comment below.

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