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 Paris is 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.

Photo - howthebodyworks

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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