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Hedging the Hendras

Altough a distant second to Chinese contemporary art in terms of price, Marc Almargo finds that Indonesia paintings are able to keep paddle-wielding art buyers on the edge of their seats.

Ahoard of Hendra Gunawan nearly eclipsed the 172 lots offerred at the Larasati auction in October last year. Owned by Jusuf Wanandi, the rarely glimpsed masterpieces that are under the care of Singapore Art Museum were shown toghether for the first time during the auction preview at the Marriott Hotel Singapore. The nine canvases, three of which were about 4m long, drew as much public attention as the pices an auction. "I wanted to educate the public by showing them the variety and excellent quality of Indonesian artworks, especially those that are inaccessible to them," says Daniel Komala, president director of Larasati auctioneers, who handpicked the paintings for the exhibition.

None of the paintings were idllic - although exuberant colours concealed less-than-pretty aspects of Indonesia life in a style that is vintage Gunawan - yet the crowd showed palpable interest. Four days later, with auction results announced, it was clear that Komala may have inched closer to his goal. Contemporary Indonesian art did exceedingly well, beginning with Nyoman Masriadi's Mobster Culture, which pulled in S$177,000 (Rp. 1,145,940,531). Pintor Sirait's Desire, a life-size sculpture of an F1 car, was sold for $112,100 (Rp. 725,762,336). Meanwhile. Gong Lilong's The Duet was the auctions top seller at $212,400 (Rp. 1,375,128,637).

"The growth in the Asian modern and contemporary art market will continue," Komala predicts. "Collectors have started to realise that were are many Southest Asian artists whose works are priced at a fraction of their Chinese counterparts, despite the fact that they are on par in terms of quality."

Elevating Indonesian art is a dream shared by art proffessionals. Gallery owners, auctioneers, art consultants and scholars want to see Indonesian art valued for other reasons, not just its current hammer price at auctions. "In the 1980s, when an econimic boom was fuelling art collecting, museums and galleries were not as actice as they are today. Collectors relied on a book on President Soekarno's art collection, which they considered as thy Bible," recalls Edwin Raharjo, owner of the eponymous Edwin Gallery in Jakarta. "President Soekarno was very close to local artists and the Indonesian art scene. Collectors were driven by the notion that collecting was part of the established society."

Serious collectors can launch an artist's career, just as they can resurrect it. Wanandi, for example, had remained a patron and ally to Gunawan during his incarceration from 1965 to 1978 because of alleged involvement in the Indonesian Communist Party. Altough it did not diminish Gunawan's creative output, it continued to bloom with Wanandi's continued support and friendship. When Gunawan was released from jail, Wanandi even organised his first solo exhibition.

But art patronage can rear its ugly head, Rahardjo cautions. A patron may influence the output of an artist he is supporting; if he is not enlightened, knowledgeable or passionate about cultivating talent, the result can be disastrous.



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