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Published by Sugar & Cream, Wednesday 22 February 2023

Text and Images courtesy of Lynda Ibrahim

Art Jakarta has successfully established itself as the city’s most popular art fair in recent years, where art afficionados, social butterflies, and curious public united for a dose of contemporary art. For a country that doesn’t have adequate art classes in its formal education system nor robust art museums, art fairs like Artjog and Art Jakarta have often served as learning windows into contemporary art—even though art fairs are inherently a commercial event, where art galleries meet collectors to make transactions.

The pandemic brought a standstill to businesses worldwide, notably art that is considered secondary, if not tertiary, need. When the pandemic was easing in 2022, Art Jakarta took an opportunity to start an outdoor mini fair on the grounds of Plataran Senayan, a hospitality chain known for its exquisite Indonesian décor. Held during Ramadan and dry season, Art Jakarta Gardens (AJG) nevertheless was received well by Jakartans eager to leave their house for pandemic-safe outdoor events.

The success emboldened the organizer to return this year in February. Instead of scorching sun, tropical rain was in, literally marked the opening of AJG  2023 that nonetheless was filled with journalists and collectors shielded by clear umbrellas provided by Plataran. The tents featured a new wing, indicated more galleries willing to participate. Held between Singapore Art Week and Art Basel HK, business remained bustling as some galleries marked purchases immediately on opening day.

The art exhibited outdoors were quality works by local and foreign artists, some of which delivered messages attuned to the present reality.

Collaborated with iForte, Digital Nativ presented an installation of tall tubes showing historical groundwater level of a given locality in Jakarta. As shown to me by Art Jakarta’s Artistic Director, Enin Supriyanto, by turning the knob on the right panel visitors can get a historical reading of groundwater level at different localities. Fought over by thousands of residential and commercial outlets, the state of Jakarta groundwater has often been highlighted by environmental activists, and the installation provided chance for larger audience to observe the dire situation.

“Aquifer”, Digital Nativ x iForte, Jakarta Art Gardens 2023

Another intriguing installation was by celebrated artist FX Harsono, a Yogyakarta-based artist known for his works highlighting the discriminations faced by ethnic Chinese Indonesians, going back to history records and unmarked graves to base his works on. For Art Jakarta Gardens he collaborated with investment venture Bibit to create an installation of wooden boat and illuminated signs to illustrate how one’s future journey can always be linked to one’s own history and tradition.

FX Harsono in front of his work, a collaboration with Bibit, Jakarta Art Gardens 2023

Inside the two tents, galleries displayed various works, also by local and foreign artists. Worth noting was the fact that many galleries chose to feature young artists in relatively affordable price tags, in line with what Fair Director Tom Tandio stated during pre-event press conference, that AJG wished to lure more young visitors this year. Again, as art isn’t taught adequately in our formal education system, most Indonesians had to learn on their own to appreciate art, which understandably often made them more cautious to start collecting it. Offering artworks at affordable prices or smaller sizes is a smart way to tap into a new generation of art afficionados.

Rising local stars such as Muklay, Ruth “Utay-utay” Marbun and Evi Pangestu were also present, excitedly greeting their fanbase and larger public, making the soiree less stuffy.

Muklay and his work | Evi Pangestu and her works | Painting by Rizka Azizah Hayati, Kiniko Art Management | Sculpture by Abdi Setiawan, Nadi Gallery

Presented by Som Santoso

Gallerist Ramdhan Djuhara of Gudang Gambar, Jakarta Art Gardens 2023

Doesn’t mean prominent artists weren’t to be found for consummate collectors. Rachel Gallery brought one of Eddie Hara’s distinctive works, while Linda Gallery filled their alley-shaped booth with gorgeous Srihadi Soedarsono paintings and Nyoman Nuarta sculptures. Gallerist Karyadi from Linda Gallery mentioned the necessity to feature established artists to open a new foreign market, before it would be feasible to introduce lesser-known names. A stack of catalogues in Mandarin on the booth showed where Linda Gallery, with a presence in Singapore and Beijing, planned to bring their artists to this year.

Gallerist Rachel Ibrahim of Rachel Gallery | Sculpture by Nyoman Nuarta, Linda Gallery

Beyond the rosy picture, a bigger question lingers—can art be more accessible to the masses through public presentations? While thanking Plataran Senayan for the willingness to expose their immaculate lawn to exhibition constructions, Enin dreams of a larger and fully public venue. “Monas compound would be perfect,” he mused. He said AJG had explored Lapangan Banteng and certain antique buildings, yet a host of factors couldn’t be satisfied– safety, security, access. Vandalism remains a serious problem in Jakarta, as is public transportation. Considerably low art knowledge often made many Indonesians awkward in facing artistic nudity or unable to control children not to touch artworks.

While the road to large scale public exhibition like Frieze in New York remains steep and rocky, Enin is hopeful that a new policy change for government-owned art institutions (read: museums) will turn them to be more flexible in working with third parties to expand their permanent collection or throw public activities—all of which will benefit all Indonesians beyond the current artsy crowd.

Art collector Diaz Parzada viewing closely the installation by Yim Yen Sum (Malaysia), Jakarta Art Gardens 2023

As I watched another wave of visitors arriving in the late afternoon to watch AJG outdoor artworks under lights after sundown, I harbored the same hope Enin voiced out. One of the saddest things to me whenever visiting good museums overseas is the lack of such facilities in my homeland. Jakarta itself isn’t lacking marvelous buildings fit for art—I remember viewing the legendary green Versace dress worn by Jennifer Lopez at an exhibition organized by the Embassy of Italy in Museum Arsip over a decade ago. And looking at the crowd eagerly frequenting art fairs in Indonesia this decade—Artjog, Art Jakarta, Art Moments Jakarta, even Artstage Jakarta that only ran for two years—they’re getting younger, less rigid, more explorative. This is the momentum the government can’t miss. The government must step up their efforts in art; educating the masses, improving public facilities, crafting policies to lure foreign galleries to attend Indonesian art fairs, or more and more Indonesians simply would seek art overseas and Indonesian contemporary art market wouldn’t be fully formed despite all the world class talents born in this country.

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