Debates loom over maestros
JP/Slamet Susanto: Opening: Visitors at the Oei Hong Djien (OHD) Museum during the opening of its third wing in Magelang, Central Java, in April. The museum houses several thousand fine-art pieces, spanning a century of works from Indonesia’s emerging artists to established masters. JP/Slamet Susanto To display the work of a great master in one’s living room is the ultimate sign of prestige after the long, hard climb up the social ladder — quite apart of course from a genuine love for art.
But how to know if the piece is genuine?
Unless you are deliberately opting for a lower cost copy, this is the age-old conundrum before spending a fortune on a painting — whether a Picasso, a Chinese watercolor, or even an Indonesian master.
The question came under the spotlight again with recent allegations of forgery regarding many works of the late maestros in present-day collections — including those by Raden Saleh, Affandi, Hendra Gunawan and S. Sudjojono.
“This is not a new issue … The forgers are not only counterfeiting late maestros, but sometimes also works by living painters,” Mahdi Abdullah, a painter, said last week. The Yogyakarta-based painter, who has held exhibitions in this country and abroad, acknowledged forgery is getting more difficult to prove.
In April, prominent art collector Oei Hong Djien opened the third wing of the OHD museum in his hometown of Magelang, Central Java, where visitors can appreciate numerous works of the masters.
His collection was one of the subjects of a heated discussion last week at the Indonesian National Gallery. The Fine Art Round Table Discussion featured Oei himself, who refuted suggestions that he might even have knowingly purchased forgeries.
“This is character assassination. I just want to preserve old Indonesian paintings, particularly those showing Indonesian history, because it is important for our future generations,” he told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of the talks.
Oei, who has been collecting paintings for almost 30 years, said that to the best of his knowledge, his collection comprised only original works.
He said he was ready to let independent curators inspect his collection, and was ready to remove any piece proven to be a fake.
“But they should be independent and free from personal interests,” Oei said.
Yet observers say finding such “independent” experts in Indonesia may be difficult, given the limited resources in comparison to the growing local art market.
The big auction houses in the region also constantly face the challenge of forgeries; Sudjojono’s family has raised concerns that forgeries of his work might have reached auction
Bids for the works of Sudjojono, Indonesia’s renowned pioneer of the modernist art movement, have been described as “extraordinary”, with his 1956 work, A New Dawn going for HK$10.7 million (US$1.3 million) in 2010 at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, four times the original estimate, reports said.
Werner Kraus, curator of the upcoming Raden Saleh exhibition in Jakarta, said solid attribution was also hard to determine for every piece.
At the May 24 discussion, one of the paintings discussed was a Sudjojono piece titled Pangeran Diponegoro (Prince Diponegoro), depicting the synonymous national hero.
Aminuddin Siregar, a researcher of Sudjojono’s work, said the bayonet on a weapon carried by a figure in the foreground was puzzling as it resembled a 20th-century model.
“We all know that the Diponegoro War occurred before World War II [1825–1830],” Aminuddin said.
Tedjabayu, Sudjojono’s eldest son, remarked that his late father was meticulous regarding detail.
But was the maestro intentionally improvising? We may never know; and collectors and traders will forever be braced to make or lose billions of rupiah on the enticing gamble that characterizes the art business.