'Asean+3' (2017), an installation by Yukinori Yanagi in Museum MACAN's inaugural exhibition. (Photo courtesy of Museum MACAN)

Contemporary Art Day In, Day Out: Jakarta's Museum MACAN Opens Doors to Public


NOVEMBER 10, 2017

Jakarta. After two previews in September and October, Jakarta's new Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, or Museum MACAN, in Kebon Jeruk, West Jakarta, officially opened its doors to the public last Friday (03/11) with an inaugural exhibition called "Art Turns. World Turns. Exploring the Collection of the Museum."

Ninety works of art from a total of 800 in the museum's collection are on display in the current exhibition. All of them were collected by the museum's founder, Haryanto Adikoesoemo, in the last 25 years.

The exhibition attempts to trace the history of Indonesian modern art according to periods, and also shows artworks from foreign artists that correspond to each period.

"We use Indonesian [modern] art as the backbone for the exhibition’s narration, everything from the colonial to the globalization era. […] We want to place Indonesia in the [art] world map," exhibition co-curator Agung Hujatnika told the Jakarta Globe.

Four Periods, Four Stories

The first MACAN exhibition is divided into four sections. The first, called "Land, Home and People," concentrates on Indonesian art before its independence from the Dutch in 1945.

This section is dominated by landscapes of villages and people living in them.

A pastoral landscape by Indonesian Romantic-era painter Raden Saleh, "Javanese Mail Station," painted in 1876, is juxtaposed with Walter Spies' "Sawahlandschaft mit Gunung Agung (Landscape of Paddy Field With Mount Agung)."

"Back then, the concept of "Indonesia" or "Indonesian" was still unknown, so "people" here has a very broad definition," Agung said.

The second section, "Independence and After" deals with the politically tumultuous period between 1945 and 1965.

Portrayals of war and soldiers were common in that era since one of the nation’s founding fathers, Soekarno, loved paintings with revolutionary themes.

However, legendary painter Sudjojono gave his own distinctive take on the Indonesian revolution with "Ngaso" (Relaxing, 1964), which depicts soldiers taking a break from fighting.

Instead of painting a run-of-the-mill heroic scene, Sudjojono chose to show the human face of the revolution.

'Ngaso' or 'Relaxing' by S. Sudjojono (Photo courtesy of Museum MACAN)

The third section of the exhibition, "Struggle Around Form and Content" shows off ideological differences in the Indonesian art scene during the Cold War era.

Unlike in Europe and the United States, where new art movements emerge one after another, Indonesia saw multiple artistic schools battling each other within the same era.

After independence, many Indonesian artists joined two influential art schools: Bandung Institute of Technology's (ITB) visual arts department in West Java and the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (ISI) in Yogyakarta.

Artists in Yogyakarta were more drawn to figurative paintings with the common people as their main subjects, a legacy from their leftist predecessors.

H. Widayat’s "Watching Football" is a good example of this school of painting. It depicts neighbors getting together to watch football as a symbol of an egalitarian society. The figures are painted in simple, cartoon-like ways in the same colors as their surroundings.

The Bandung school was more influenced by abstract expressionism, which began in New York in the 1940s led by artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Robert Rauschenberg.

Works by Rothko and Rauschenberg are displayed alongside paintings by Indonesian artists in this section.

This section also includes many stylistic experimentations, including Andy Warhol’s portraits and Tanaka Atsuko’s minimalist paintings.

'Portait of Madame Smith' by Andy Warhol at Museum MACAN. (JG Photo/Dhania Sarahtika)

The exhibition also includes newspaper clippings and old art catalogues to provide contexts to the works.

Defining Moment

One of the defining moments in Indonesian modern art was a protest in 1974 by younger artists against the organizers of Pameran Seni Lukis Indonesia — the precursor to today’s Jakarta Biennale — for favoring older artists.

A coalition of young artists from Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Bandung (West Java) sent the organizers a flower arrangement with the caption "Turut Berduka Cita Atas Kematian Seni Lukis Indonesia" (Condolences for the Death of Indonesian Painting).

The incident, called "Black December," later gave birth to Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru Indonesia, or the Indonesia's New Art Movement.

The last section in the exhibition is entitled "Global Soup," which highlights the diversity in Indonesian modern art after the Reformation of 1998.

Indonesian artists won their freedom of expression back after the Reformation. Globalization also allows local artists to explore creative opportunities and enter art markets abroad.

I Nyoman Masriadi’s works are perfect examples of how Indonesian art has been heavily influenced by pop culture in the digital age. His "Run Until You Burn" resembles a film poster more than a painting.

Some Indonesian artists from this era show a preference for tackling social issues, including I Dewa Ngakan Made Ardana whose painting, "A Father is Trying to Collect the Memories of His Own Family" (2016), looked like an old family photograph with faded out faces.

The work is actually a commentary on the anti-communist purge in 1965-1966 when up to three million Indonesian communists were massacred.

'A Father is Trying to Collect the Memories of His Own Family' by I Dewa Ngakan Made Ardana. (JG Photo/Dhania Sarahtika)

F. X. Harsono confronted the same issue with his "Wiped Out #1." Made in 2011, it is the painting version of his performance art piece "Writing in the Rain."

"Art Turns. World Turns." also highlights the diverse media modern artworks are made of.

There are Cai Guo-Qiang’s "Ascending," made of gunpowder and ink on paper, then there are works by Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami and Ai Weiwei which rely on digital reproduction.

There is also a specially commissioned work by Yukinori Yanagi called "Asean +3."

It contains 10 flags of the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the three flags of China, Japan and South Korea. All of them are arranged to form an ant farm.

Each flag has been created from colored sands and connected by transparent tubes.

The exhibition runs until March 18, 2018.

For Children and Beyond

"Aside from exhibition, MACAN also holds talks, forums and children programs," Museum MACAN chairwoman Fenessa Adikoesoemo told the Jakarta Globe in a separate interview a month ago.

Museum MACAN also has a Children’s Art Space where kids can marvel at a plexiglass painting titled "Floating Garden" by Entang Wiharso.

Or they can choose to spend their time coloring pictures and making paper crowns.

On Tuesday, the museum welcomed 50 students and teachers from SDN Kebon Jeruk 15 Pagi elementary school, the first school group to visit the museum.

Fenessa said the museum will also host a regular public program called Weekend Talks, featuring contemporary artists and industry experts, to try to attract more people.

"Museum-going culture is still relatively young in the country. We need to re-introduce art to Indonesians," she said.

Museum MACAN's launch has met a lot of positive responses.

Adeline Ooi, director of Art Basel Hong Kong, praised the museum for its extensive collection. Pointing out there are not many museums focused on visual art in Jakarta, she said MACAN can do a lot to get more people in the city to appreciate art.

"Museum MACAN will change the Indonesian art scene for the better. It will change the art landscape in Jakarta, if not beyond. Finally there’s a space that’s open to the public where you can see art day in, day out. It’s very special," she told the Jakarta Globe.