How do modern Indonesians feel about Soekarno?

The lawn looks greener when you water it

Indonesia's lively art scene is traditionally supported by the country's collectors - and there is now an increasingly established international art market.

Like the hum of a swarm of bees, the air sways over the metropolis of millions as it gets dark. The polyphony of the muezzins calling for evening prayer can be heard from the turrets of the mosques spread across the city. The sound carpet lies over the roofs around the hotel tower of the Sheraton Grand Jakarta Gandaria City, which rises like a monolith into the lonely height and gives the evening atmosphere in the capital of Indonesia a beguiling note. The “Sheraton” is located in the south of the city, where development is predominant: a stake has been struck with the luxury hotel. The simple one-storey houses covered with bricks or makeshift corrugated metal sheets around the hotel with an attached shopping mall should soon give way to new buildings.

But development area is actually everywhere in Jakarta - with economic growth of no less than five percent. The financial center can be recognized by the many skyscrapers and the even more numerous construction cranes. The city with its nine and a half million inhabitants is growing faster than the city planners can work, which is why the traffic jams in the streets are notorious. The crowds and sheet metal avalanches do not decrease even during the clattering chant from the minaret loudspeakers. Indonesia cultivates a moderate Islam, for Friday prayers state institutions close at most for a few hours, such as the National Gallery, where parts of the art collection of Sukarnos, the first president of the Southeast Asian island kingdom, are shown.

The upper class collects art

The lively traffic, however, is a suitable image of society. The majority of the lower class drives motorcycles, equipped with a helmet in a disciplined manner, even though around 200 moped drivers lose their lives on the streets of Jakarta every day. Poverty is on foot. Merchants push carts laden with towers of goods. The middle class can afford a Japanese car - if the going gets tough, a Toyota Alphard. These comfortably equipped vans, which in addition to the Japanese home market are produced exclusively for Asian sales markets, offer space for a large family. But what drives the thin upper class? Like the usual western luxury brands all over the world.

And like everywhere else in the world, this privileged class collects art, especially contemporary art. As everywhere else, the rich and super-rich of Indonesia have jumped on this bandwagon. They have been playing this popular board game at the latest since last August, when Indonesia received its first international art fair, Art Stage Jakarta.

To be more precise, they are now playing it a little more intensely in the limelight of the fashionable fair. Because they have actually been practicing it for some time, namely since the first president of the still young nation showed them how to do it: Sukarno was a passionate collector - especially Indonesian modernism.

Indonesian shooting stars

Therefore, the wealthy in Indonesia may have a slightly different relationship to art collecting than in the rest of the world. They collect with a great deal of naturalness, with a lot of social commitment too, and without the rest of the world having noticed anything. It was only when Indonesian contemporary artists achieved international renown that the market became aware of Indonesia's lively art and especially the lively collector's scene. Because the latter in particular has so far lived perfectly even without an art market.

Today in the metropolis of Jakarta, where the economic heart of Indonesia beats, there are only a dozen commercial galleries, a few reputable auction houses and so far only one locally oriented art fair. That may be surprising, since an artist like Heri Dono has long enjoyed an international reputation for his installations and paintings borrowed from Indonesian puppet shows. The socially critical multimedia artist FX Harsono has also long been a big name in the West. And names like Entang Wiharso, Nyoman Masriadi or Christine Ay Tjoe are passed on from Singapore to London to New York as the shooting stars of the hour. The scene in Indonesia itself has long been in the slipstream of the emerging Asian superpower China. In addition, the financial crisis in East Asia had hit the country in the 1990s. In addition, there was the political chaos after Suharto's resignation in 1998. In addition to the new freedom of expression after Suharto, Indonesia's economic miracle began in 2005. The country, the capital and the art scene have become more cosmopolitan.

The first president, Sukarno, is still regarded by Indonesian art collectors as a great role model to be emulated. Anyone who gives something on themselves, who someone is and has achieved something, be it in the tobacco industry, in the travel industry or in the real estate sector, collects art - not exclusively, but mainly Indonesian art.

Because Sukarno had collected them all, the painters of the Bandung school and the still very lively Yogya school, both in Java, as well as the artists of the Bali school. The most important representatives of these art schools can be seen in the National Gallery: names such as Affandi, Hendra Gunawan, Sindoedarsono Sudjojono.

All these artists can now be found in the collections of the country's great collectors like Oei Hong Djien, who has his own private museum, like Alex Dedja, owner of the “Sheraton” in Jakarta, like Deddy Kusuma, a real estate tycoon who above all Building hospitals, or Ciputra, who, now 90 years old, developed entire city quarters in Jakarta. The latter has focussed his 55-year collecting activity primarily on Hendra Gunawan's colorful expressionist painting of Javanese living environments. His great artist friend, who died in 1983 and whom he exhibits in the gallery of one of his shopping malls, is considering building a memorial with a private museum.

Above all, such collecting activities also mean supporting artists from your own country. And this support means first and foremost to cultivate close friendships with his protégés. President Sukarno had also shown this: He spoke of the artists of Indonesia as his allies in building the nation founded in 1945.

You know your artists personally, you buy from them in their atelier or from gallery owners who, comparable to carpet dealers, only play an intermediary role. For a long time there was no need for a market, for a long time there was no need for professional gallery owners based on the Western model, and there was also no infrastructure like museums and art halls as we know them in the West.

The vanguard of the gallery owners

It was, however, gallery owners from the west such as Arndt from Berlin, Rossi from London or Arario from Seoul who discovered young Indonesian contemporary art for themselves and carried it out into the world. The auction giants Christie's and Sotheby's, who have expanded their sphere of influence to Southeast Asia in recent years and repeatedly offered Indonesian artists to an international audience, have also contributed.

In 2008, Sotheby's auctioned a work by Nyoman Masriadi in Hong Kong for over one million US dollars. It is also a Swiss trade fair organizer who was the first in Southeast Asia to establish a sales platform for Indonesian contemporary art. At Lorenzo Rudolf's art fair Art Stage Singapore in 2013, an entire pavilion was dedicated to Indonesian art. The curated special show presented no less than 36 positions. With its young but lively gallery scene, Singapore is also a hub for up-and-coming Indonesian art.

Influential Indonesian collectors are positive about such an opening of the home market. They were also the ones who supported Rudolf with the installation of a second Art-Stage-Fair in Jakarta, which came out of the ground relatively spontaneously last year and with around 50 international galleries again this August in the “Sheraton” should go. Not only, but to a large extent also, those Indonesian artists who are well represented in Jakarta's private collections are negotiated here.

International attention

Because how do you best support your artists? Not only by collecting them, but also by giving them access to the global art market. They are given international attention with art fairs on the one hand, and exhibitions, especially in the West, on the other. Lorenzo Rudolf was also the initiator of the Paris show “The Grass Looks Greener Where You Water it” in the Grand Palais during the Art Paris 2010 art fair, which featured 40 works by 20 young Indonesian artists from Deddy Kusuma's private box. Kusuma is one of the co-initiators of Art Stage Jakarta. Indonesian contemporary art was shown in the summer of 2011 at the Saatchi Gallery in London (“Indonesian eye: fantasies and realities”) and at the Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton in Paris, where over 50,000 visitors saw the exhibition “Trans-figurations: Mythologies Indonésiennes”. This was followed by the show “Beyond the East: A Gaze on Indonesian Contemporary Art” with 15 young artists at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome.

Indonesian artists are today what the Chinese were a few decades ago. With increasing awareness, they attract ever larger and, above all, international groups of collectors. Ultimately, this benefits everyone, not just the Indonesian artists themselves. The market that is now gaining a foothold in Jakarta is also benefiting from the hype. And last but not least, the collectors themselves, whose commitment to the art of their homeland is rewarded.