In a museum in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, rests a bright-yellow 1976 Mitsubishi Galant GTO with a flamboyant tail fin, detailed in emerald green and scarlet. It’s not parked outside of the building; rather, it has pride of place int the main gallery, complete with a rope surround and a spotlight. But this is not La Gioconda, and you’re not in the Louvre. This is Affandi’s Ride, the car in which certainly the most significant Indonesian artist of the twentieth century roared around the city until he died in 1990; and you’re in the Affandi Museum, a jumble of buildings along the Gajah Wong River that Affandi crafted himself. His paintings-wild landscapes and provocative, almost psychedelic portraits-still fetch thousands and thousands of dollars, but it’s his crazy muscle car that stays along with you, so idiosyncratic and unexpected in a museum. A cultural surprise, much like Yogyakarta itself.
Placed in the eastern part of Java-Indonesia’s fifth-largest island and also the world’s most populous-Yogyakarta will be the country’s nexus of traditional arts. It is additionally the 17,000-island archipelago’s most-visited destination after Bali, a well known fact that has much concerning its proximity to the extraordinary Buddhist temples of Borobudur and also the equally impressive Hindu ones of Prambanan, both less than an hour’s drive away.
Wayang kulit, Indonesia’s intricate shadow puppetry, was born here over a thousand years back. So was batik, a few hundred later; paket tour jogja designs-complex geometrical and graphic patterns, usually painted in rich browns and deep blues on white-are viewed among the most beautiful by textile collectors. (Some were exclusive to Javanese royalty; commoners are still forbidden to wear them in particular tombs and palaces.) In Kota Gede, Yogyakarta’s old town, built greater than 400 years back from the immensely wealthy Mataram sultanate, the streets are so narrow that they have to be navigated on foot or by tuk-tuk; often you barely have to reach your arms out to your fingertips to graze the walls on either side.
But Yogya, as locals refer to it as, is additionally the incubator for Indonesia’s next generation of artists and gatekeepers of culture. The international enthusiasm for that country since its first democratically elected president, Joko Widodo, took his seat last fall is dovetailing using the perennial hunger among art collectors for the following Big Thing. Because of this if you’re considering the contemporary art of Asia, Indonesia is definitely a interesting place at this time. The reinstitution (after a seven-year absence) in the Indonesia Pavilion on the 2013 Venice Biennale-underwritten by billionaire Indonesian-Chinese businessman Budi Tek, whose collection includes works by Anselm Kiefer and Anish Kapoor together with others by Agus Suwage, Eko Nugroho, and Puto Sutwijaya, a few of his own country’s biggest artists-had been a major statement.
The city’s Biennale is, at 26 years, Asia’s longest-running; yet it is Art Fair Jogja, inaugurated in the year 2011, which has garnered international attention featuring its commissioned thematic exhibitions. This past year, delegates from Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Gagosian, and Tate Modern were spotted scouting in the Taman Budaya Art Center in search of another Nyoman Masriadi-a Yogyakarta-based Balinese whose The Person from Bantul (The Last Round) triptych, a political allegory featuring three of his signature monumental black-skinned figures in a boxing ring, sold at auction in Hong Kong a few years ago for over $1 million.
Masriadi has become represented by Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York City, which showcased his work prominently at Art Basel Miami Beach in December; Nugroho has had recent exhibitions in Berlin (at Arndt), Hong Kong (Lehmann Maupin), and Newport Beach, California (the Orange County Museum of Art). Gagosian cares enough concerning the market to have installed an agent in Jakarta full-time a year ago. And Ben Brown, an English dealer with galleries in London’s Mayfair and also the Pedder Building in Hong Kong, brought a show of major contemporary Indonesian artists to the U.K. in 2012, less than a year right after the exhibition “Indonesian Eye: Fantasies & Realities” on the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea. “It’s definitely a powerful market,” Brown says, not simply in Asia but globally. “I’d attribute it in part to the reality that China now looks overpriced, and to the Indonesian collectors building a big mark on the international scene.”
While a number of these artists have lived and worked in Yogya (or still do), the spot is less about watching the market and more about quiet creativity. That has been a crucial part of their life for centuries: The town is home to both Indonesia’s oldest and most prestigious fine arts academy and also the erstwhile Kingdom of Java’s richest sultans (meaning probably the most talented artisans and performers historically based themselves here).
While you explore, you’ll discover art in enclaves of surprising quiet and beauty amid the hornet’s nest of traffic. (Having a population of just below 400,000, Yogyakarta is fairly chaotic-and thus best navigated xrfvih a personal car and driver.) At Langgeng Art Foundation, founder/director Deddy Irianto hosts exhibits, residencies for visiting artists, and commissioned projects in a number of airy white cubes punctuated by way of a café and an internal garden. A 20-minute ride to the side of town brings you to definitely the Sarang Building, which features emerging local talent and is worth a visit for the gorgeous galleries and outdoor exhibition pavilion alone.
Cemeti Art Foundation, which helped put Yogyakarta on the contemporary map when it launched within the mid-’90s, operates from a bungalow close to the old city. Its Dutch founder, Mella Jaarsma, says that Yogya outguns Jakarta among serious aficionados, inspite of the latter’s push to dominate the gallery scene. “The money could be in Jakarta,” she says, “but the genuine interest is here.”