Thu, 25 Aug 1994

Grand exhibition to display works of master painters

By Rita A. Widiadana

JAKARTA (JP): "To the historians accustomed to studying the growth of scientific or philosophical knowledge, the history of art presents a painful and disquieting spectacle, for it seems normal to proceed not forward but backwards," writes Herbert Read in his book `A Concise History of Modern Painting.'

The Indonesian art world is probably under similar circumstances. Despite the fact that a number of artists, including the late Affandi, have received international acknowledgment, the local art condition remains disheartening.

"People tend to consider art an unimportant issue," said Sudjoko, professor of arts at the Bandung Institute of Technology.

Citing an example, he said that so far Indonesia has not been able to track its own history of art. Many art works are left unrecorded due to a lack of agencies devoted to art.

Another shortcoming, he explained, is the absence of an appropriate museum of fine arts. Opportunities to participate in the international art activities as well as to hold world-class art exhibitions are very rare.

Based on these facts, a newly established foundation is trying to manage a grand exhibition at the Shangri-la Hotel here in October. Aside from the exhibition, the foundation will also organize a painting contest to win the Phillip Morris Arts Awards.

"Only a few Indonesian artists and art students have had the chance to see outstanding works of international painters. Such an opportunity is important for them to develop their artistic skills," said art critic Agus Darmawan.


The planned exhibition, which will display original works of Francisco de Goya, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin and many other prestigious painters, will indeed become a remarkable experience for local art buffs.

The exhibition will also include works by local painters such as Raden Saleh, Affandi, Basuki Abdullah, S. Sudjojono, Le Man Fong and Mochtar Apin.

Organizing such a big art event in Indonesia must be a mammoth task. It is quite interesting to know the people behind the scene, mostly housewives and prominent businesswomen, involved in Yayasan Seni Rupa Indonesia, the Indonesian fine arts foundation.

Susrinah Sanyoto Sastrowardoyo, chairperson of the foundation, told The Jakarta Post in a special interview that the idea to set up the foundation originally came from herself and two other members, Titiek Prabowo, daughter of President Soeharto, and Sri Harmoko, wife of Minister of Information Harmoko. It also involves a number of noted business figures, such as Peter Gontha, as well as prominent artists and art critics Jim Supangkat, A.D. Pirous and Agus Darmawan.

Tracing back the history of the foundation, Mrs. Sastrowardoyo pointed out that firstly it was only a dream of an art lover.

Last year, she recalled, she was impressed by a catalog of an exhibition organized by Tresor's in Singapore displaying works by renowned painters. She wondered if the organizer would willingly display these masterpieces in Indonesia.

Desperately trying to contact the organizer for almost four months, she finally received a positive response from the London- based art agency, Bradbury International Service Pte. Ltd.

"To my surprise, William R. Burris (director of the Bradbury art agency) said that he was very keen to put on an art show here, although he has never been to Indonesia before," Mrs. Sastrowardoyo said.

Although she did not have a partner to work with, she immediately took this rare opportunity. She then invited Burris and his staff here to see which facilities would be needed and to learn about all the requirements specified by the Indonesian government concerning art exhibitions from foreign countries.

In spite of strict requirements, including the ban for holding sales of the displayed art pieces, the Bradbury art agency agreed to jointly coordinate the event here in Jakarta.

To realize the planned exhibition, she said, a body or an agency was required.

"We established Yayasan Seni Rupa Indonesia on June 8 because it would be very difficult for individuals to coordinate such a thing," she said.

"It took a year to materialize. And in the middle of that period we halted our activities just to convince ourselves whether or not the plan could be realized," she recalled.

The Bradbury agency will accommodate all materials for the exhibition, including round-trip transportation of the displayed paintings and all items needed for the exhibition will be sent from Singapore to Indonesia. The company will also be responsible for all insurance fees needed to cover all the exhibits and security for the items during the trip.

To finance the coming exhibition, the Bradbury organizes a sponsorship and invites 12 other galleries from Europe, Asia and the United States to take part in the exhibition.

Asked how much the exhibition cost the foundation, she said `no comment.'

Initial step

The October exhibition, Mrs. Sastrowardoyo said, is just the foundation's initial step to attract public attention -- local artists, art critics and art students in particular.

"The coming event is purely an exhibition intended for local artists, students and the public as well. This is our first attempt to enhance art activities in Indonesia," she maintained.

The foundation's long-term project, however, includes an inventory of fine arts by local artists representing every period. It also plans to register as many as possible foundations, groups and associations including galleries dealing with fine arts.

"We really want to become an agency which can accommodate all activities that enhance the development of fine arts," she said.

The foundation also seeks cooperation with the government to improve the condition of museums and to maximize their functions as important agents of culture, she added.


Responding to the establishment of the foundation, Sudjoko commented that such a foundation will be beneficial only if it fosters both arts created by urban people as well as the rural communities.

Admitting that he knew about the foundation from a television news report, he explained the definition of arts and artists in Indonesia is often misleading.

"Art is often thought as that produced by artists living in such big cities as Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta and Surabaya," he lamented.

"The urban elite group determines the definition and calls their own products `art forms'. The sophistication of the art term set by this elite group has permanently excluded the works of artists living in remote provinces. These artists are usually referred as craftsmen and their products as handicrafts, regardless of their artistic values," Sudjoko added.

He mentioned that a large number of gifted artists can be found all over the country but their talents are still unrecognized by the domestic art circle.

The Asmat people of Irian Jaya, for example, produce a variety of art forms including fine arts. Yet their works are categorized as handicrafts, he explained.

"The international world on the other hand has recognized the works of these craftsmen instead of works created by what we call famous Indonesian artists," said Sudjoko.

Many Indonesian painters are only locally well-known, but not internationally.

"They should actually improve their skills and qualities in order to place themselves in a prestigious level in the international art communities," Sudjoko said.

"As long as the wide gap between the urban and rural arts still exist, efforts to cultivate local arts pose a big question. Which kind of arts then will be developed ?" he asked.