Jakarta. The annual Presidential Palaces' Art Collection Exhibition returns this year to the National Gallery of Indonesia in Cikini, Central Jakarta, from Aug. 3- to Aug. 31, just in time for Indonesian independence celebrations on Aug. 17 and the Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2.
This is the third time the presidential palaces – there are six in total in Indonesia – reveal their art collection to the public.
The first exhibition in 2016 focused on works depicting the Revolutionary War to win Indonesia's independence from the Dutch in 1945.
The 2017 exhibition was dominated by art works highlighting Indonesia’s natural beauty.
This year's exhibition carries the official theme of "Indonesia, the Spirit of the World."
Curators Amir Sidharta and Watie Moerany said this year's exhibition highlights the values of resistance and gotong-royong (working together) that helped Indonesia gain its independence.
Since the Asian Games are near, there are also works with sporting themes.
As always, many of the art works explore local metaphors, mythologies and legends.
The exhibition is divided into three sections: "A Nation’s Struggle – United in Diversity"; "Mutual Cooperation, Creating Together"; and "Becoming a World Citizen to Welcome the Future."
The show is organized by the State Secretariat Ministry, Education and Culture Ministry, Tourism Ministry, Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf) and Mandiri Art.
The organizers expect around 40,000 visitors to the show, a bigger turnout than last year’s 35,000.
Since the Asian Games will be on during the exhibition, the Tourism Ministry expects more foreign visitors will come to the show.
In total, there are 45 art works by 34 high-profile Indonesian and foreign artists on show.
The local artists include legends such as Basoeki Abdullah, Hendra Gunawan, Nasjah Djamin, Raden Saleh, Dullah and Sudarso.
The foreign contingent is made up of Walter Spies, Jean-Daniel Guerry, Shinsui Ito and Zsigmond Kisfauldi Strobl.
The works come from five presidential palaces this time: Jakarta’s Presidential Palace, Bogor Palace and Cipanas Palace in West Java, Tampaksiring Palace in Bali and Gedung Agung in Yogyakarta.
According to Watie, the palaces keep around 3,000 art works, mostly paintings, sculptures and handicrafts (kriya).
A catalogue of the palace art works exists, but has not been digitalized.
Hunting and Sports
One of the most popular works in the show is turning out to be "Pemanah" ("Archer"), a sculpture by Hungarian artist Zsigmond Kisfauldi Strobl.
Dated 1919, the statue normally stands tall at the front lawn of Jakarta’s Presidential Palace on Jalan Veteran, but it has been moved to the National Gallery temporarily for the exhibition.
Strobl, a former soldier in World War I, made the statue as part of a series symbolizing the power of resistance.
Amir told reporters during a press tour on Friday (03/08) that Indonesia’s first president Sukarno saw one of the Strobl's archer statues at the Városligeti ice skating rink in Budapest during his 1960 state visit, and again in 1961.
Sukarno finally visited Strobl’s studio and brought home a few of his sculptures, including the Archer.
"Reportedly Sukarno bought the statue not just to show it to the public, but also to show Indonesian artists an example of a good sculpture," Amir said.
Another iconic piece in the exhibition also has an archery theme, "Memanah" ("Shooting an Arrow"), an oil painting by Hendrik "Henk" Hermanus Joel Ngantung, painter and former Jakarta governor in 1964-1965 – the first Christian-Chinese governor of the capital before Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama.
Dated 1944, the painting was also shown in the first presidential palace collection exhibition in 2016. The painting has since undergone some restoration.
"Sukarno loved archery because arrows were the weapons of choice for many people in the global East and South. It's also a symbol of bravery," Watie said.
When Sukarno bought the painting from Henk in 1944, the detail-obsessed president asked the painter to correct the position of the archer’s arm before it was delivered to his house.
The painting was hung at Sukarno’s home on Jalan Pegangsaan Timur No. 56 and became a witness to Indonesia’s proclamation of independence a year later.
A painting by one of Indonesia's old masters, Raden Saleh, meets public eye for the first time in Indonesia in this exhibition – his famous "Perkelahian dengan Singa" ("Fighting a Lion"), painted in 1870.
The painting was a gift from the Dutch Queen Juliana to Sukarno in 1970.
Watie said the painting normally resides in the leafy Bogor Palace just outside Jakarta.
Another painting by Raden Saleh is also in the exhibition, 1851's "Berburu Banteng II" ("Bull Hunting II"), one of five known works by the aristocratic painter depicting a bull hunt.
Apart from paintings and sculptures, the exhibition also shows off the palaces' crystals collection.
Sometime in the mid-1950s, the Steuben Glass Company invited Asian artists to submit their designs for an exclusive crystal collection. The motifs they received from Indonesia included "Bhima and Snake" by Basoeki Abdullah, "The Temple Dance" by Agus Djaya and "Balinese Funeral" by Made Djata.
The etched crystals toured 29 cities in 16 countries in the late 1950s.
After the last exhibition in 1958, the crystals were given to the artists' home countries. Sukarno received the three crystals from Howard Jones, then United States ambassador to Indonesia, at Cipanas Palace on Aug. 1, 1959.
The exhibition also features an archives room where visitors can learn the history of iconic art works in Indonesia, including the construction of the famous "Selamat Datang" and "Dirgantara" statues, a video profile of sculptor Edhi Sunarso who made them and some fun facts about Raden Saleh’s paintings.