Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

In Indonesia, a New Freedom to Explore ; as Country Opens Up, Contemporary Artists Are No Longer Holding Back

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

In Indonesia, a New Freedom to Explore ; as Country Opens Up, Contemporary Artists Are No Longer Holding Back

Article excerpt

Contemporary artists, taking advantage of new liberties, are expressing their feelings in their works and getting noticed far outside of their country.

Wiyu Wahono admitted that the first time he came across a contemporary painting while on a student backpacking trip in Venice in the late 1970s, he was "shocked" by how ugly it was. But the jolt soon subsided, and Mr. Wahono developed a passion for contemporary art. He has amassed a collection of video, installation, photography, sound and new-media art -- much of it Indonesian. His office in central Jakarta also serves as an art space, where visitors can see video pieces like Yusuf Ismail's "Eat Like Andy," where he mimics a video of Andy Warhol consuming a hamburger, and "Ting," a whimsical video and installation piece by the artistic collective Tromarama from Bandung.

Diversity "is the strength of Indonesian art," Mr. Wahono said.

Because Jakarta's museum and commercial gallery scene lacks a strong infrastructure, collectors like Mr. Wahono have filled the vacuum by promoting the scene domestically and abroad. There are few noncommercial gallery spaces and the National Gallery of Indonesia curates only about 10 percent of its shows. The rest of the time, the space is rented out to artists and commercial galleries.

"So it is like a commercial space," said FX Harsono, one of the founders of the influential 1970s group the New Art Movement, also known as Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru, which has been credited with introducing contemporary art practices to Indonesia.

The commercial gallery space in the city has increased over the past decade. It is estimated that before 1998, there were only a handful of spaces and now there are dozens. But only a few of these spaces participate in international art fairs and have research platforms.

"In Europe and America, there is a balance between the market and artistic discourse, art critics and noncommercial spaces," Mr. Harsono said. "But here it is different because you have commercial galleries that are just thinking about selling. They do not educate and they do not promote the artists."

Despite those issues, Indonesian contemporary art has become one of Southeast Asia's hottest art scenes. This month at the contemporary art fair Art Stage Singapore, Indonesian artists were highlighted at a special pavilion featuring 36 of the country's most intriguing artists. The Hong Kong outpost of the London gallery Rossi & Rossi inaugurated the new Yallay Space there by showcasing, along with other Asian artists, several Indonesians, including Heri Dono and Christine Ay Tjoe.

Arin Dwihartanto Sunaryo and Reza Afisina, meanwhile, will be featured in "No Culture: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia," which is showing at the Guggenheim Museum in New York starting Feb. 22. Also, the Indonesian pavilion at the Venice Biennale this summer will highlight five Indonesian artists examining issues like identity.

"Indonesia feels right now like how I understand the New York art scene was in the 1970s and 1980s, where everyone knew each other and there was a lot of support," said Entang Wiharso, an artist who splits his time between Indonesia and Rhode Island and who will be one of the artists exhibited in Venice. "Collectors here are very serious, very active and very sophisticated in their tastes."

Indonesia has a large melange of cultures that has proven to be a hothouse for artists. It has more than 1,700 islands, some 300 languages and a religious mixture of Islam (the country has the largest population of Muslims in the world), Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.

"Look at our geography and history," said Mr. Dono, one of the country's most influential contemporary artists. "It has been a meeting point of cultures and kingdoms with influences from Indian Sanskrit to Arabic, Chinese, Latin and Dutch. …

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