Jakarta. A double bill of exhibitions to celebrate the career of one of Indonesia's modern masters, Hendra Gunawan, "100 Years of Hendra Gunawan – A Centenary Celebration," will be held at Ciputra Artpreneur in Kuningan, South Jakarta, on Aug. 4-16.
The first restrospective, "Hendra Gunawan: Prisoner of Hope," will show 32 paintings by Hendra from Ciputra Group owner Ciputra's personal collection.
The museum already has 10 paintings by Hendra in its permanent collection. The other paintings in the new exhibition will include some never-before-seen pieces, including "Nude," a portrait of the late artist's wife that Ciputra unveiled on Wednesday (19/07).
According to veteran art critic Agus Dermawan, one of Prisoner of Hope's curators, the title makes a pointed reference to the 13 years Hendra spent in New Order jail.
All of the pieces in the exhibition were painted in prison or just after Hendra was released in 1978.
Hendra was captured by the Indonesian military in 1965 and then sent to prison without trial because of his involvement in the banned Indonesian Communist Party’s (PKI) cultural organization, Lekra (Institute of People's Culture).
Agus, who wrote Hendra’s biography "Surga Kemelut Hendra: Dari Pengantin Revolusi Sampai Terali Besi" ("Hendra's Heavenly Chaos: From Revolutionary Groom to Time Behind Bars") said the painter did not join Lekra for the politics, but because the organization helped to introduce him to other artists with the same ideology.
Collectors had shied away from Hendra's paintings for a few years after he was released from prison, but Ciputra was a regular buyer even back then.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Ciputra said he encountered Hendra’s paintings for the first time in 1962.
He was especially struck by the painter's distinctive style and depiction of common people.
"He always portrayed ordinary people fighting for their life…. Hendra and I shared something in common. We struggled to avoid poverty when we were young," Ciputra said.
Back then Ciputra – not yet the media and real estate magnate we know today – could only afford to buy one or two of Hendra's paintings whenever he had money.
Hendra met Ciputra again soon after he was released from prison to thank him for not only buying his paintings, but also for giving him the opportunity to sell his work at Pasar Seni Ancol (Ancol Art Market), an early creation of the budding billionaire.
"Hendra cried when he told me no one was buying his paintings when he was trying to sell them door-to-door. He even got chased off from one house by a dog," Ciputra said.
When Ciputra visited Hendra at his home in Bali in 1983, the painter had put up his remaining paintings as collateral for his house.
Ciputra decided to help his painter friend by paying off his home loan.
Not long after that, one of Indonesia's great modern masters passed away.
"I'd promised him that one day I will open a museum for him, and the dream came true a few years ago," Ciputra said.
Ciputra Artpreneur was opened to the public in 2014.
Ciputra said the exhibition’s title summed up not only Hendra's experience, but also his personality.
The Bandung-born artist was a humble and generous person who worked relentlessly for his art and was a mentor to many younger artists.
"Hendra was always prepared to suffer for his art. I once saw him buying up his own paintings. I asked him why. He said they were all fake. Hendra bought them himself to be destroyed. He didn’t mind spending his own money to stop fake art," Ciputra said.
Tribute by Living Artists
The other exhibition, "Spektrum Hendra Gunawan," will feature current artists paying their homage to Hendra.
Curated by Rifky Effendy, many of the works make references to Hendra’s populist themes.
More than 100 artists working in various media – painting, sculpture, ceramics, video, photography – will be included in the exhibition, including big names like Davy Linggar, Hanafi, Heri Dono, Jumaldi Alfi, Mella Jaarsma, Farhan Siki, Butet Kertaradjasa, Gede Mahendra Yasa and Muhammad “Emte” Taufik.
There are also works by younger artists who were selected in an open submission.
Rifky said the Spektrum artists took different approaches in responding to Hendra's oeuvre.
"Only a few appropriated his style. Most reinterpreted the themes in Hendra’s paintings, from human relationships to his views of women. Some imitated his use of colors," Rifky said.
The curator pointed out that Hendra’s ability to create a harmonic composition in clashing colors is still underrated by art historians.