First published in print and digital editions of The Art Newspaper, September 2011 issue.
This month, London's Saatchi Gallery will be hosting an exhibition of contemporary art from the world's largest archipelago and fourth most populous country. "Indonesian Eye: Fantasies and Realities" (1 September - 9 October) is the UK's first major exhibition of Indonesian contemporary art.
The presence of Indonesian artists in international events is not new. The difference this time is the volume of shows coming to Europe. As well as the Saatchi exhibition, another opened at the Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton in Paris in June ("Trans-Figurations: Indonesian Mythologies" until 23 October). And over the next few months, several commercial and non-commercial exhibitions are in the pipeline, including "Asia:Looking South" at Arndt Gallery, Berlin (10 September - 27 October); "Beyond the East" at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome (14 November -15 December); and a solo show of the Bali born Gede Mahendra Yasa opens in October at Primo Marella gallery in Milan.
"What is happening in contemporary Indonesian art is a reflection of the pace of development in Indonesia. There is a lot of energy in the works, the quality of the art is good and prices are still reasonable," said Marella, who has been representing Indonesian artists for four years.
Indonesian contemporary artists may be the new kids on the block in occidental countries, but in Southeast Asia (which covers countries including Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam), they are the big boys. Indonesian works in Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art auctions account for about 68% of Christie's and Sotheby's turnover. Half the lots sold at these auctions are from the country, and contemporary art transactions alone contribute up to 20% of takings. But in international terms, the market is young and sprawling.
The wide pool of contemporary Indonesian artists to choose from has led to diverse selections in recent exhibitions. For example, Nyoman Masriadi, one of Indonesia's most sought after artists, has been left out of Saatchi gallery exhibition, which has raised some eyebrows. Masriadi's The Man from Bantul (The Final Round), 2000, became the most expensive contemporary Indonesian work of art ever sold at auction when it went for HK$ 7.8m ($1m) at Sotheby's in Hong Kong in 2008. Masriadi's work has a distinctive character, but he comes with a controversial CV that is rich on auction appearances but relatively short on non-commercial credentials, even by Southeast Asian standards. Yet, just across the Atlantic, he was the artist that Paul Kasmin Gallery picked for a sell-out solo exhibition in April, with works priced between $200,000 and $350,000.
"Indonesian Eye" promises to showcase the young and emerging scene,"offering a wide view of what contemporary art is in Indonesia right now", said Serella Ciclitira, its co-founder and co-curator. Straightforward as it may seem, this could be a rather ambitious undertaking. EVen as the show opens in London, Ciclitira revealed that work has already started on next year's edition. And why not ? Someone once said that if the map of Indonesia were to be superimposed onto Europe, it would stretch from Ireland to Iran. If this were true, it may well take several shows to present a proper view of the contemporary Indonesian art scene. This year's a great start nonetheless.