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.
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.
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).
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
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."
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.
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.
who are unsure of what to buy or have little time to find what they want
can rely on art consultants. Portrayed as art shoppers to the moneyed, art
consultants actually provide more than leads or representation at auctions.
They help institutions and individuals make informed purchased. More importantly,
they provide an objective take on an artwork's value. "A number of
my clients look into expanding their investment portfolio and see potential
in collecting art," says art consultant Veronica Howe. "I consider
their investment horizon and risk appetite, but the bottom line is always
what they like." And what they like, as experience has proven, gets
better with information.
make sure they understand what they ae buying and why it is important to
acquire particular pieces." Howe explains. It is not an easy task.
To acquire Rudolf Bonnet's 1954 Two Balinese Men in Front of a Landscape for a client, Howe had to research the piece thoroughly and rely on her
international network for leads. "It wasn't easy convincing my client
to hand over a quarter of a million Singapore dollars to bid on a piece
that neither of us have seen. I had to demonstrate that I knew what I was
doing and that the piece would close a gap in his collection." Howe
won the bid for about $220,000, and spent the rest of her budget on freight
and the $11,000 tax.
is often collected and enjoyed first by locals who are familiar with the
artists ot the subjects and may have strong personal or social affinity
with them. But when they enter the hundred-thousand-dollar sphere, they
often become objectified, memorialised for how much they cost rather than
what they mean to the public. They also call attention to their potential
as investment that can be traded when the market is on an upswing.
price of Indonesia contemporary art has skyrocketed over the past five year
or so. Although serious collection of such works began more than twp decades
ago, the emphasis was different: the works were seen as visual history and
social commentary rather than a money-spinning commodity. Gallery owners
admit that although such prices indicate the current level of interest in
Indonesian art, they also attract speculation.
Sandhu, owner of Gajah Gallery, a pioneer in promoting Indonesia art in
Singaopre, feels that prices escalating too quickly threaten an artist's
career. "When artworks change hands too fast, when they are commoditised,
they lose part of their value no matter how much they make in auction or
gallery sale," Sandhu points out.
believes that educating the public on the real value of art is the antidote:
"We put in the effort so that art is valued and understood in the proper
context. Modern and contemporary Indonesian art have so much soul in them.
There's so much meaning that can be read in them. He want to raise public
awarness of their values, not necessarily monetary value." If this
is archieved, he says, even if the art market craches, the artworks will
remain valuable. Sandhu is alarmed by the level of speculation in the market,
"Speculators are coming in tenfold, fanning the price war."
who is to stop them? Rahardjo goes as far as getting buyers to sign an agreement
that they would not re-sell what they buy for at least two years. "I
want to see collecting as a serious activity. It is not like getting married
to someone you don't love and filling for divorce when you want a new one,"
he jests. And Sandhu has caused the ire of buyers to whom has refused to
they are in the market to flip the artwork for a quick profit, they better
go somewhere else. They just don't get it." Adds Rahardjo: "I will
not sell a piece to a collector if I know that it will allow him to manipulate
prices in the market."
official curator and valuer for the Indonesian Presidential Palace collection,
knows that it is not always the market force that is at work during auctions.
"It may be a battle egos or a fight between investors. We have to educate
them so that hopefully their battles are headed towards the right direction."
Like Sindhu and Rahardjo, Komala works with qualified art scholars and reputable
curators to put together his auction catalogues. Rahardjo often enlists the
aid of Sanento Juliman, eminent Indonesian art critic and Sorbonne University
scholar. "We have been doing that long before we knew the meaning of
the word curator," he says.
who has put together important exhibitions of modern and contemporary Indonesian
art at the National University of Singapore Museum and the Singapore Art Museum,
concurs: "Indonesian art will realise their full value if the general
public know more about them - not just how much they fetched an the most recent
auction, but what they really mean to society."