Amalia Wirjono is keen to bring Indonesian art to the international scene. Her latest project, The Art Department, offers a space for new and established artists to showcase their work. (The Peak Photo/Angguni Suminarto)

Art & Passion: A Connoisseur's Rise and a Chance to Give Back

FEBRUARY 13, 2015

Amalia Wirjono is keen to bring Indonesian art to the international scene. Her latest project, The Art Department, offers a space for new and established artists to showcase their work. (The Peak Photo/Angguni Suminarto)

Do things you are passionate about. This is the party line of many successful businesspeople -- a line that somehow seems easier said from high up on the mountaintop than during the climb. But where doubt and cynicism are often tempting responses, there are cases when passion-based business rings so true that it seeps like a mantra humming an ultra-convincing "everyone and anyone really can live doing what they love."

Amalia Wirjono is one such businesswoman. Virtually all of her businesses were bred out of whatever she was passionate about at a particular moment in time -- a modus operandi she continues to operate by today. Though dynamic and always growing, this passion has always had a base in a movement of creativity and artistry.

"If you can do something with your passion, I think it's a blessing," asserts the mother of two.

In the early 1990s, Amalia founded the KOI restaurant and art gallery in the Mahakam area of South Jakarta. The establishment blended a rich Asian and Western culinary experience that was still very rare back then, alongside a gallery dedicated to showcasing some of the country's best artistic works. More than that, KOI also exhibited many stylish furniture creations by local creative minds. It has since expanded into three locations, with a respectable catering and event-organizing business. Clearly, Amalia's sense of business and artistry was ahead of its time.

In 2003, she co-founded Rumah Yoga (Yoga House) with four of her friends. Focusing on a practice that was far from ubiquitous in Indonesia back then, Rumah Yoga was again a showcase of Amalia's progressive business mind. Today, it still stands as one of the country's most popular yoga spaces.

She then founded The Goods Dept., a massively popular "curated department store" that sells alternative fashion and lifestyle items from both local and international designers. Founded in 2010, The Goods Dept. came as an extension of Brightspot Market (established in 2009), an annual market with a similar concept, which changes its location every year. The Goods Dept. has since opened in three locations around Jakarta and expanded with its Goods Diner and Goods Cafe, ostensibly becoming a hub for the city's ever-growing hipster market.

Artistic opportunities

Undoubtedly, Amalia's biggest claim up until then was as the Indonesian representative for Christie's International, the fine-art auction house. There, she dealt directly with renowned pieces of art and premium art collectors, learning along the way that art from her own country had what it takes to penetrate the global market. She has since then moved onto the Hong Kong chapter of the highly respected contemporary art house Gagosian Gallery.

Her latest endeavor, The Art Department, located within The Goods Dept., is a culmination of Amalia's unrelenting artistic passion, as well as her undeniable sense of compassion toward the country's artists.

Opened late last year, the store is still growing but already offers a clear standing with a fair mix of works from both established and newer artists. The goal is a simple yet challenging one: to re-establish art from its segmented market into something that is more approachable and less intimidating for a wider audience, who have an appreciation for local art but find the task of collecting, supporting and getting deeper into the art world daunting.

"[The idea] is similar to how The Goods Dept. operates, which is, people feel cool when they buy something there. So they will also feel that sense of cool when they buy a piece of art from The Art Department," Amalia says.

The works sold at The Art Department are meant to be affordable, with uniquely personal values such as signed and limited numbered pieces. Amalia understands that in order to corral a larger, more "limitless" market, there need to be values of interest that will pull people in.

"We are certainly not behind other Asian countries, or even the world, quality wise," Amalia says, speaking of ways to introduce local art to a more mainstream audience.

"There needs to be -- and this is actually growing in numbers now -- art exhibitions that are less commercial in nature. That happens a lot through the younger generation [of artists]."

A team of curators assists Amalia in contacting and working with these contemporary artists, whose pieces range from photographs, paintings and illustrations, to mini murals and collages. Also available are prints, patches, premium clothing designed and illustrated by local artists, and wearables such as necklaces, also designed by local artists.

For Amalia, this alternative and collaborative ability of contemporary art is exciting and a strong way of bridging art with a more mainstream audience.

"Art, and in particular contemporary art, can be meshed together with things such as fashion, or music. And there is nothing wrong with that," she says, referring also to the success of The Goods Dept., adding with what seems to be her underlying belief of the "unlimited" value of art: "What's important is how to promote [art] to a larger audience."

But to really break this new ground, Amalia knows that the sense of identification and personal relationship that often happens between an artist and an art enthusiast must be translated to a wider audience. That's why The Art Department encourages its visitors to purchase pieces from new names in the art scene (though the department is also consistently pushing more established artists such as Yogyakarta's Agus Suwage, known for his multimedia art, which has fetched prices up to hundreds of thousands of dollars).

"I think it's important [for a new art enthusiast] to [discover an artist] that you like and follow that artist's growth, or perhaps follow an artist who is of a similar age," says Amalia, who is convinced that such a relationship is mutually beneficial. "Perhaps you could even purchase the works of a [newer] artist, which will in effect provide him with the means to get better and grow."

Amalia mentions names such as Angki Purbandono, the globally respected artist whose "photography without a camera" pieces are very much in line with Amalia's "art should be limitless" outlook; and Saleh Hussein, whose mural work and black-and-white illustrations are gaining momentum, as a few examples of emerging talents who are worth following.

When Amalia speaks of The Art Department and these local artists, she does so with a contagious passion. She knows that her art world connections can do plenty in introducing local artists to a bigger stage. So not only does she plan on re-establishing local art as something the mainstream can enjoy and partake actively in, Amalia will also bring Indonesian art to the international scene.

"I do all of this with a pure heart, and by doing so am also helping [these artists]," Amalia says. "That makes it so much more enjoyable."