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On Heels Of China's Contemporary Art Stars, Indonesians Are Latest Asian Secret On Art Maket

Contemporary artists in Indonesia are starting to gain the attention of Western galleries. And like the craze for Chinese art that preceded it, the sudden attention could send prices for Indonesian pieces through the roof.

On Heels Of China's Contemporary Art Stars, Indonesians Are Latest Asian Secret On Art Maket
Roxana Azimi

Western museums and art galleries have overlooked contemporary Indonesian art for too long. But by a curious combination of circumstances, artists from the Asian archipelago are finally enjoying their day in the Western sun – at least in three of Europe's shining capital cities.

Louis-Vuitton's Espace Culturel in Parisis dedicating an exhibit to Indonesian artwork from June 24 to Oct. 23, and the famous British collector Charles Saatchi is opening his London space up for the works in August. And in Berlin, gallery owner Matthias Arndt is incorporating several Indonesian artists in his exhibit entitled "Looking South," from Sept. 10 to Oct. 27, while Paris' SAM Art Project will also welcome the Indonesian artist Eko Nugroho this fall.

Why the sudden wave of interest? Indonesia artists have the astronomical success of their Chinese counterparts to thank. "It's logical," explains Jean-Marc Decrop, a specialist of the region. "There was a ripple effect. With the overinflated price of Chinese art, the audacious Asian and international art collectors turned their attention to other scenes. And Indonesia is by far the second most interesting art scene in Asia."

Artists in Indonesia, which saw the coming of Islam in the 13th century yet remains spotted with pockets of Hindus, nourished themselves with alluvial soil. What emerged was an incredible ingenuity tinted with syncretism, since most of the artists transform their origins. Their work is marked by a strong connection with nature, along with a certain low-tech trend that distinguishes their art from that of their Chinese neighbors. Offering a relatively engaging narrative, their artwork does not hesitate to dive into recent history by alluding, for example, to the dictatorship of Suharto (1967-1998).

"The particularity of this art scene is its diversity, mixture and energy. The city of Yogyakarta is a melting pot in which artists mutually assist one another. The foundation is good, because there is a complete ecosystem, with collectors, galleries, and rather open schools," says Hervé Mikaeloff, the steward of the Espace Vuitton expo.

The new Asian art stars

Some of the most noteworthy Indonesian artists are Agus Suwage and Handiwirman Saputra, as well as Eko Nugroho, whose artwork was even exposed at the 2009 Biennale in Lyon.

The price of Indonesian artwork is starting to skyrocket. "The 2006 sale at Sotheby's was a turning point," says Kim Chuan-mok, a Sotheby's specialist. "Putu Sutawijaya has in two years gone from $5,000 to $100,000." The price of pieces by Agus Suwage jumped from $10,000 in 2006 to $150,000 and then $300,000 in 2010.

In 2008, a Nyoman Masriadi piece sold at a record $1 million at Sotheby's in Hong Kong. The price for works by the young J. Ariadhitya Pramuhendra is also on the rise. "In May 2010, at the Honk Kong Fair, his pieces were selling for $15,000 to $18,000. In August, in a public sale in Jakarta, one of his art pieces sold for $70,000, and another sold for $113,942 in September at Sotheby's," says M. Decrop.

The boom in Indonesian art is indebted to rich local art collectors who continue to actively sustain the market. Ooi Ong Djin, a well-known figure amongart veterans, has opened a private museum in Magelang, next to Yogyakarta. Of Java origin, Wiwoho Basuki is the owner of the private foundation Duta Fina Arts, created to assist young artists.

But for now, Indonesian art remains a mostly shrouded secret in the West.

"I think the prices should run up alongside those of China," says M. Decrop. "Indonesia has the world's fourth largest population, its largest Muslim population and is very rich in resources." Add to the list of resources a burgeoning contemporary art market.

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