Indonesian contemporary art in Italy: Primo Marella maps emerging Asian art regions


For this second post in our two-part series on Indonesian art in Italy, we talk to Primo Marella, owner and director of the Milan-based Primo Marella Gallery, who has been bringing Indonesian contemporary art to the country’s art lovers since 2009.

Farhan Siki, Mur(War)Kami #2, 2011, spray varnish on canvas, cm 200x230

Farhan Siki, 'Mur(War)Kami #2', 2011, spray varnish on canvas

Click here to read part one in this series, called “Indonesian contemporary art in Italy: A ‘faraway world’ brought closer to Rome“.

When it was founded in 2000, Primo Marella Gallery was the only exhibition space in Milan, and maybe even in Italy, that focused on emerging contemporary art from the Asian region. In 2006, it was among the first Italian galleries to open a second venue in Dashanzi Art District in Beijing. After hearing whispers of a budding contemporary art scene in Southeast Asia, gallery founder Primo Marella and his team set out in 2007 to investigate the region. “The whole area,” says Marella, “was in artistic ferment. We began by visiting Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and the Indochinese peninsula. We were particularly impressed with the high quality of [the art from Indonesia].”

The alleys of a city named jogya at Marella Gallery in 2011

Eddi Prabandono's installation 'Slippery', 2010, in "The alleys of a city named Jogya", 2011. Image courtesy Primo Marella Gallery.

view of  Entang Wiharso's solo show ' Love me or Die' at Marella Gallery in  2011

Entang Wiharso's solo show "Love Me or Die" at Marella Gallery in 2011. Image courtesy Primo Marella Gallery.

Mapping Indonesian contemporary art

In Indonesia, a lack of public exhibition venues meant that tracking down artists and their work was difficult. “Being an enormous area to explore, there was a huge amount of research to be carried out before we could decide what was of interest to us,” Marella explains. Even today, the central government plays a limited role in supporting local art, and the scene is almost entirely funded by the private sector, with shows organised in art spaces, galleries and museums run by artists, collectors or art enthusiasts. The fact that Indonesia’s several centres of artistic activity are scattered throughout the country only adds to the sense of dislocation visitors to the archipelago experience. Says Marella,

[By] visiting art academies in Bandung and Yogyakarta, and through a network of contacts with galleries, artists and local curators and collectors, we started gradually to draw up a ‘map’, which did not exist [when we began], documenting our efforts with catalogues and publications. In five years, I have [created a base of] knowledge on Indonesian contemporary art that, I hope, is becoming a reference [point] for Western and Eastern collectors alike.

Primo Marella with artist Farhan Siki in December 2011. Image courtesy Primo Marella Gallery.

Primo Marella with artist Farhan Siki in December 2011. Image courtesy Primo Marella Gallery.

Indonesian art not “ready-to-wear”

While interest in Indonesian art is on the rise globally, Italian collectors remain coy when it comes to accepting new trends from the East, preferring to stick to what Marella calls the safe, “ready-to-wear” art. He says,

It takes some work to get the Italian public to pay attention to the art emerging from Southeast Asia. A small core of Italian collectors with whom I’ve built up a relationship of trust over the years are just starting to buy Indonesian art. Although we have noticed an increase in interest during the last couple of years, the general public’s response is still below my expectations. We get a lot of [attention] from our ‘global’ audience in art fairs and shows around the world, and this makes us feel that our efforts are worthwhile.

When it comes to Indonesian art and its relationship with the West, Marella sees similar room for improvement. “Through almost daily contact we [have] slowly built up a cross-cultural dialogue with our artists that has [led to] mutual understanding and growth,” he states. “I believe that Indonesian art has great potential for originality and further development.”

Filling in a cultural gap

Over the past three years, Primo Marella Gallery has been organising a number of shows in an effort to fill in the gap in the Italian public’s knowledge of the emerging Indonesian art panorama. In 2009, “Southeast B(L)ooming” introduced Milanese audiences to work by Haris Purnomo, Wayan Suja and Entang Wiharso, among others. This was followed in 2010 by “Pleasures of Chaos: Inside New Indonesian Art“, a survey exhibition that featured works by Agus Suwage, Handiwirman Saputra, FX Harsono, Ichwan Noor, Rudi Mantofani and Yuli Prayitno.

Primo Marella Gallery booth at Art Stage Singapore 2012.

Primo Marella Gallery booth at Art Stage Singapore 2012.

In 2011, Jim Supangkat curated a group exhibition for the gallery that showcased street art from the active community in Jogya, which was followed by solo shows dedicated to Entang Wiharso and Gede Mahendra Yasa respectively, and an exhibition that showcased the work of emerging graffiti artist Farhan Siki, curated by Hendro Wiyanto. Marella Gallery had a booth at the second annual Art Stage Singapore, held in January 2012, and the gallery reveals that visitors were attracted most to works by Haris Purnomo, Indieguerillas and Entang Wiharso.


Related Topics: Indonesian contemporary artists, gallery shows, gallerists and dealers

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Indonesian contemporary art in Italy: Primo Marella maps emerging Asian art regions — 1 Comment

  1. when is the exposition of the paintings ” divine sawah’s from the artist
    theo zantman

    kind regards

    anneke zantman