Kebersamaan by Dolorosa Sinaga. JP/Wendra Ajistyatama
It may not be the Louvre or the Guggenheim, but a recent exhibition at the National Gallery proves Indonesia does have a collection of art works that it can be proud of.
Among the 43 works belonging to its permanent collection are five Kandinskys. Yes, the famous Wassily Kandinsky, renowned for his geometric and color symbolism.
The undated four black and white lithographs and a colored one are perhaps not the most prominent works of the Russian artist and art theorist dubbed the father of modern abstract painting. But, they are nevertheless part of the process of Kandinsky’s creative journey.
“We are still trying to figure out when those works were completed. But, what we know for sure is they are definitely collectors’ items,” National Gallery research team member Zamrud Setya Negara said.
So how did they end up on the walls of the National Gallery?
“This was part of a grant given during the era of Sukarno in the late 1950s. Back then, there were closer ties with Eastern European countries,” Zamrud said.
Kandinsky’s works are among the hidden gems exposed at the National Gallery’s current “Commemoration” exhibition.
“This exhibition serves as a historical reminder, reviewing the collection of the National Gallery, and underlining how certain works of international artists are appreciating more,” exhibition curator Kuss Indarto said.
Overall, the exhibition unveils less than 3 percent of the 1,770 works of international and local artists managed by the National Gallery, Indarto added.
Works of international contributors include paintings by France-based Chinese Zao Wu Ki, and German-French artist Hans Arp, also known as Jean Arp. The latter was a founding member of the Dada movement in Zurich, Switzerland and of a similar group in Cologne, Germany.
Born and Freedom by Heri Dono. JP/Wendra Ajistyatama
A large part of the exhibition consists of works the Indonesian government received as a grant from French-based art groups. These included 163 paintings and lithographs that were later kept at the National Museum.
Some art works came from a grant received after the exhibition of “Contemporary Art of the Non-Aligned Countries” in 1995 in Jakarta. It was perhaps the first large-scale international exhibition that ever took place in the country.
The series of works exhibited also represent a certain era when artists from less prominent Western countries were trying to swim against the tide and set up an internationalist movement. Works of this genre are also represented by those of Asian, African and Latin American artists, such as Peruvian Evrain Vidal, Cuban Belkis Ayon and Indian artist Madhvi Parekh.
But, of course, the international collection represents only a small part of the masterpieces of modern and contemporary art. The list of works from Indonesian artists is also worth taking note of. Heri Dono’s 2004 installation Born and Freedom consisting of four pairs of statues featuring audio effects and Hanafi’s 2006 Pukul 12 Siang Hari acrylic painting are representative of the works of renowned Indonesians.
Seasoned sculptor Dolorosa Sinaga and Bali-based painter Popo Danes also have a few pieces in the exhibition.
“By exposing them to the public, the gallery opens up the opportunity for the public, including artists, to actively participate in improving its collection,” Indarto said.
“Each year we add something to our collection, be it from grants or by paying [some] compensation for the acquired works of both local and international artists,” National Gallery spokesperson Tubagus Sukmana said.
Among its latest collection are works by Heri Dono, Hanafi, Budi Kustarto and the Argentinean artist Jorge Canale.
Opened in 1982, the National Gallery – which occupies a complex of buildings built by Carpenter Alting Stiching in 1902 – is slowly building its reputation as a sort of independent noncommercial art space.
In a way, it has become one of the art centers in the country with around 30 to 40 selective solo and group exhibitions annually. Though not without other competing institutions, Indarto added.
“Hopefully, this year-end exhibition will inspire the public to have a stronger say in optimizing the role of the National Gallery,” Indarto said.
Exhibition of the gallery’s permanent collection
National Gallery, Jakarta
Dec. 17, 2009 to Jan. 10, 2010