Seismic changes in Indonesian art scene since 2007 Borobodur auction

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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