Connecting Indonesia: Director Aaron Seeto on Jakarta’s Museum MACAN – interview

Museum MACAN provides public access to one of the most significant collections of modern and contemporary art in Asia.

Art Radar spoke with Director Aaron Seeto ahead of the museum opening in November this year.

Aaron Seeto, Director Museum MACAN. Image courtesy of Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN).

Aaron Seeto, Director Museum MACAN. Image courtesy Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN).

The first museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art in Indonesia, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN) opens to the public on 4 November 2017. Founded by Indonesian philanthropist and leading collector Haryanto Adikoesoemo, the museum has over 800 modern and contemporary artworks in its growing collection.

The inaugural exhibition of Jakarta’s newest museum in November is co-curated by Charles Esche and Agung Hujatnika, and will include work Indonesian as well as international artists from the 19th century until today.

Art Radar spoke with Director Aaron Seeto about the importance of the space as well as what to expect in the upcoming exhibitions.

Preliminary rendering of the exterior of Museum MACAN, by MET Studio Design Ltd.

Preliminary rendering of the exterior of Museum MACAN, by MET Studio Design Ltd.

Why is it important to have a space like Museum MACAN in Indonesia at this time? 


Museum MACAN stands for the ‘Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara’. It is the first museum of its kind in Indonesia with a purpose built, 4,000-squaremetre facility, with around 2,000 square metres of exhibition space, housing a collection of Modern and Contemporary art from Indonesia, Europe, America and also Asia, that has been assembled over the last 25 years. The Museum has a focus on exhibitions, the collection and education, and has been designed to serve the public of Indonesia.

I think that people are hungry to see a space like this open in Jakarta and there is a lot of anticipation and enthusiasm for the opening of the Museum. We know that there is increased curatorial attention on Indonesia and Southeast Asia from our colleagues around the world. We hope that Museum MACAN will help to facilitate knowledge and interest in the region with opportunities for reciprocal cultural exchange. In Indonesia itself, there is a burgeoning interest in art and culture – young people are eager to learn about art, and are interested and excited to see their own histories and experiences represented in the cultural offering of the city, and so we hope our programme with its strong focus on the curatorial and on education, will be able to satisfy this.

Yayoi Kusama, 'Infinity Mirrored Room - Brilliance of the Souls', 2014, mirror, wooden panel, LED, metal, acrylic panel, water, 287.4 x 415 x 415 cm. Copyright of Yayoi Kusama, courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/ Singapore.

Yayoi Kusama, ‘Infinity Mirrored Room – Brilliance of the Souls’, 2014, mirror, wooden panel, LED, metal, acrylic panel, water, 287.4 x 415 x 415 cm. © Yayoi Kusama. Image courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/ Singapore.

In what ways does Museum MACAN differ from other museums in the region?

The vision that we have for the Museum is definitely one that connects Indonesia beyond our immediate geography. It is a Museum for Indonesia that can provide a vital platform for local and international artists, opportunities for Indonesian audiences to experience art in a museum setting, and encourage broader cultural exchange. The Museum’s programme, as much as it is focused on Indonesia, will also have a global outlook – and look at ways to connect the discourses of Indonesia and Southeast Asia with conversations happening elsewhere – this is also very much a reflection of our contemporary global experiences. We hope that our exhibitions and programmes will allow people to consider how we connect and interact with the world around us, and how Indonesia imagines itself as part of the world.

Entang Wiharso, 'Melt' (triptych), 2008, acrylic, spray paint, car paint, collaged photo details and oil on canvas, 300 x 600 cm. Collection of Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN).

Entang Wiharso, ‘Melt’ (triptych), 2008, acrylic, spray paint, car paint, collaged photo details and oil on canvas, 300 x 600 cm. Collection of Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN).

Can you talk a bit about the space of the museum and the complex (as there are also commercial elements in the building as well as offices, apartments, a hotel and a retail area). What kind of experiences will visitors have in the museum spaces? 


The Museum is located in a multipurpose landmark building in the up-and-coming Kebon Jeruk, West Jakarta. The Museum is part of a much larger complex, including an office tower and hotel. The Museum has been designed by MET Studio London, and the architecture is exciting and distinctive, with fluid architectural forms that disrupt the usual idea of a ‘white box’.

When we open in November, I think that people will be excited by the scale of the Museum, and they will begin to imagine different ways in which Museum MACAN will become part of the city’s, and country’s, infrastructure for the arts.

Why is it important to engage visitors with museum exhibitions? In what ways can museum spaces, and Museum MACAN in particular, engage with audiences?

We really consider that the work which we do in the Museum is part of the public sphere and public conversations – and so visitor engagement is crucial. Our education and public programmes are really aimed at enriching and encouraging art appreciation – we want people to come and learn and be curious about art. The Museum will open to the public in November, but we have already begun aspects of our Education Programme. Over the last few months, our education team has been reaching out to local schools to provide introductions to the Museum, describing what a museum is to children, and talking to teachers about ways in which we can support their teaching activities, and the resources that might be useful for them in the future. This is a really important part of the Museum’s programme, especially since art education here is under-resourced. Our approach to education is holistic, so whilst we are creating programmes for children and teachers, we are also developing learning opportunities for all age groups, through tours and talks led by our education and curatorial teams.

Sindudarsono Sudjojono, 'Ngaso', 1964, oil on canvas, 140 x 100 cm. Collection of Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN).

Sindudarsono Sudjojono, ‘Ngaso’, 1964, oil on canvas, 140 x 100 cm. Collection of Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN).

What sort of changes or trends have you seen in the contemporary art scene in Southeast Asia in recent years? 


Indonesia has a really important and fascinating art history, and I would say that there is increased interest in the region from curators and museums around the world. This has allowed for the work which has been done here by curators, art historians, artists and other organisations over many years, and decades, to have wider global circulation. I hope that this is not a ‘trend’, but recognition that art historical discourses exist outside of the already known, and much work needs to be done by our colleagues elsewhere to better reflect and collect the work of Indonesian and Southeast Asian artists.

Are there any specific challenges or opportunities in the field of presenting contemporary art that are specific to the Southeast Asian context and Indonesia in particular? If so could you explain a bit about them? 


As someone who has been working in the field of Asian and Pacific contemporary art, I think that different places have different challenges which they face. Indonesia has long had a vibrant ‘scene’, it has committed critics and art historians and active independent curators and spaces. But what it has lacked is the infrastructure, especially museum infrastructure to support artists and to care for collections for the future. What we notice is that for many important mid-career artists, they have not had opportunities to present their work in depth in their own country. This is one thing which the Museum will be able to contribute. Through curatorial research, exhibition making and publishing, we hope to be able to be an important base where visitors from around Indonesia and also around the world can come raise the profile and generate knowledge about artists and their practices.

Robert Rauschenberg, 'Rush 20 (Cloister)', 1980, solvent transfer, fabric, paper, and wood with Plexiglas casing, 248.9 x 182.9 cm. Collection of Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN).

Robert Rauschenberg, ‘Rush 20 (Cloister)’, 1980, solvent transfer, fabric, paper, and wood with Plexiglas casing, 248.9 x 182.9 cm. Collection of Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN).

What are some of the highlights from the upcoming exhibition in November?

Our inaugural exhibition is titled “Art Turns. World turns.” and it is co-curated by Agung Hujatnika and Charles Esche. It will include about 90 works of modern and contemporary art that illustrate the history of modern and contemporary Indonesian art, intersected by world history. There are many important works, but a few key highlights include a selection of paintings by Raden Saleh, which includes a rare self-portrait (Saleh is a foundational artist in the history of Indonesian modern art), as well as important paintings by Sindudarsono Sudjojono, Dullah, Sudjana Kerton, FX Harsono and Arahmaiani. Other works include paintings by Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Atsuko Tanaka and many more.

What upcoming programmes can we look forward to? 


In addition to the inaugural exhibition “Art Turns. World Turns.”, we will have on display a number of key sculptures in an area of the museum that we have called the Sculpture Garden, which houses large-scale sculptures, with a view that overlooks the city. Key works here include Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room – Brilliance of the Souls, as well as Jeff Koons’s Hulk (Wheelbarrow) and Beetle Sphere by Indonesian artist Ichwan Noor.

In the future, our programme will be a mix of curated exhibitions from the collection, exhibitions of contemporary artists from Indonesia and abroad. People will see a range of exhibitions that draw on our collections of historical through to the modern and contemporary artworks. We will also curate special exhibitions with local and international artists. The museum is committed to supporting Indonesian artists, and with our facilities, we will be able to present exhibitions in a much more expanded way than before.

Claire Wilson

1844

Related topics: international art, art world happenings, curators, Southeast Asian, art and community, political, social, art centres, feature, Indonesian artists, Indonesian art, interviews

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