The soaring value of contemporary Chinese and Vietnamese art has been one of the art world`s most widely documented phenomena of recent years. But if you`re a would-be collector who feels priced out of the market, is there anywhere else to look? Try Indonesia. The archipelago`s artists represent extraordinary value in comparison to the record-breaking sums trading hands at Asian art auctions these days. And they`re talented too. "Contemporary Indonesian art is now on the map," says Deborah Iskandar, Christie`s representative in Indonesia.
Pricing aside, why has the country`s art output suddenly become so attractive? There hasn`t been an explosion of art colleges; nor has the country been seized with the kind of sweeping social movement that inspires fresh outbursts of radical art. Instead, experts cite external influences. "Artists are better because they are more exposed to international art," explains Amir Sidharta of Sidharta Auctioneer.
"Traveling abroad has helped many Indonesian artists develop their identities and own way of painting." The resulting work appeals to both domestic collectors in search of something new, and overseas buyers seeking work with reference points they understand. Some collectors are even paying for artists to go on European museum trips because it allows the artists to experience art more viscerally than they would through books or the Internet.
One of the scene`s rising stars is Balinese artist Dewa Gede Ratayoga. At the 27-year-old`s first show, held in Jakarta`s Ark Galerie last April, all of the giant hyper-realist canvases were sold by the end of the opening night, some for as much as $5,000. By international reckoning this was a small sum, but by Indonesian standards it was an extraordinary haul by a young unknown. "This is the beginning of a new trend," says Bruce Wallace, chief representative in Indonesia of UBS, the bank that helped sponsor the show. "When quality comes on the market people don`t waste time."
Even more in demand is the Kelompok Jendela, or Window Group, from Yogyakarta. It has taken the auction world by storm, with works by Rudi Mantofani, Yunizar and Handiwirman Sahputra leading the way (Yunizar and Handiwirman`s paintings have sold for over $50,000). According to Deddy Kusuma, owner of one of Indonesia`s largest collections, some works by the group have appreciated by 10 times in the past year alone. Established painters are also benefiting from the surging interest. Nasirun, a well-known but reclusive 42-year-old painter in Bantul, Central Java, is currently selling paintings to overseas collectors sight unseen—such is the demand for his work.
The only thing missing from this vision of promise for Indonesian artists is official backing. "We don`t get any support," complains sculptor Iriantine Karnaya. "There is no shortage of creativity in this country but we need the means and resources to develop it." One of those resources would be a national museum of contemporary art, which Indonesia currently lacks, forcing private collectors to fill the void. Travel-industry magnate Rudy Akili recently built the three-story Akili Museum in West Jakarta to house his own vast collection of Indonesian masters. "I wanted to make my collection visible to the public," says Akili. "But there are no appropriate places to make donations so I decided to build my own museum." (It`s open by appointment.) Jim Supangkat, a Jakarta-based curator, adds that the shortage of academic opportunities for art-minded Indonesians is responsible for a lack of cohesion in the art scene. "One of the reasons Indonesian painters do not command the same prices as their Chinese counterparts is due to the absence of art criticism and proper discourse," he says.
For now, though, there`s certainly no shortage of buyer interest. Indonesian artists may not yet be selling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars—but that, say experts, is the point. "Now is the time to jump in," suggests Iskandar from Christie`s. "Indonesian art is so cheap you can`t lose on it." It`s the kind of advice any collector loves to hear.
Source: www.time.com (16 Juli 2007)