Book offers glimpses into
prominent art collections

Indonesian Odyssey, A Private Journey Through Indonesia's
Most Renowned Fine Art Collectors
Helena Spanjaard
Equinox Publishing, Singapore

Can those who treat art as a highly speculative and lucrative commodity -- a financial investment -- be convinced instead to become collectors with specific purposes and missions in building their art collection?

That is one of the reasons why Indonesian Odyssey: A Private Journey Through Indonesia's Most Renowned Fine Art Collections was received positively by the Indonesian art community, particularly the more established collectors who are concerned about the state of the art market, which is at the time dominated by art speculators.

Collectors saw that the book, initiated by Deborah Iskandar (at the time Christie's Indonesian representative -and has since joined Sotheby's), had great potential in enabling them to display their collections to Indonesian art enthusiasts and enticing them to develop a more serious interest in their projects. It could also serve as a means to introduce the best of Indonesian art to the international world. Therefore, they agreed to participate although they were required to contribute a sum of money in return for the purchase of a certain number of books as part of the publisher's re-sale efforts.

The 320-page book features 21 of the most prominent collections, including those of Haryanto Adikoesoemo, Franciscus Affandy, Rudy Akili, Phillipe Augier, Fauzi Bowo, Ir. Ciputra, Tossin Himawan, Sutanto Joso, Eddy Katimansah, Cahyadi Kumala, Deddy Kusuma, Oei Hong Djien, Helmut & Henny Paasch, Alexandra Prasetio, James Riady, Sunarjo Sampoerna, Budi Setiadharma, Poppy H. Setiawan, Ismail Sofyan, Inka Utan and Jusuf Wanandi.

In addition to modeling former president Sukarno's collection, art aficionados were influenced by exhibitions of the 1990's, such as "Indonesian Impressions" which featured artwork from Mooi Indi* (Beautiful Indies).

Although it features a good number of collectors with quite a wide range of interests in the field of art, the book fails to capture the tremendous diversity and types of artwork that have been created by Indonesian artists. With the exception of Oei Hong Djien, very few are featured who have extensive collections of Indonesian contemporary art.

The author of the book, Helena Spanjaard, has attempted to bring out the stories from each of the collectors. Particularly interesting is the narrative of Alexandra Prasetio's artwork. The attention to which she has given in making sure her pieces are well displayed captured the appreciation of noted senior artist Ahmad Sadali, who wrote her a personal letter. Other accounts can be found in the book, enticing collectors not only to buy paintings but to establish personal relationships with their artists.

The book is a fitting addition to existing tomes of Indonesian artwork, beginning with the five volume Sukarno collection albums, A Collector's Journey: Modern Painting in Indonesia: Collection of Jusuf Wanandi (Neka Museum 1996) and Exploring Indonesian Modern Art, The Collection of Dr. Oei Hong Djien (SNP Editions, Singapore, 2004).

In the introduction, the author tries to present its brief history in Indonesia, but instead only provides very sketchy information, focusing on that of Sukarno. She does not provide many details of the development of art collections over the years.

Actually, other than Sukarno, a number of other influential individuals collected artwork in the 1950s and 1960s such as Mardanus of Surabaya, East Java, and Alex Papadimitrou, Tjio Tek Djien and Sudarpo from Jakarta. More joined this illustrious group in the late 1960s through the 1980s. Following the liberalization of the Indonesian economy in the late 1980s, new collectors emerged, and once again, after the financial crisis of 1997, an entirely new generation of enthusiasts emerged.

Many who are included in the book criticize the publisher and initiator for not being strong enough in maintaining the type of collections to be presented.

"The focus of the book is clear; it is titled, Indonesian Odyssey. Its scope should only include works of art related to Indonesia. Other than including mainstream Indonesian art from a historical perspective, it can also include works by foreign artists who were inspired by Indonesia. I thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce lesser known young artists to the world. Therefore I must say I am very disappointed that the publishers allowed some collectors to feature their Chinese art, as if Chinese art needs any more publicity and promotion!" a disgruntled collector exclaimed.

Art experts have a different concern. "It is a pity the publisher, author and initiator did little to ensure that no fake artwork appear in the book," an art expert said.

"There have been recent attempts to legitimatize questionable works of art through publications, so they should have been more careful."

A number of experts have identified at least three pieces which vary from being questionable to definitely counterfeit.

Be that as it may, despite all the criticism, the book has been well received by collectors and art enthusiasts. Last Friday, it won an award for "Best New Business Model for Book Publishing in Asia" at the 2008 Asian Publishing Convention in Singapore. The high quality of the volume will undoubtedly inspire art investors to become art collectors. It is a must for anyone aspiring to the former or just enthusiastic to learn more about Indonesian art.

The writer is the founder of Jakarta-based Sidharta Auctioneer

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