Thu, 19 Jun 2003

Irianto blends tobacco and art

Tarko Sudiarno, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta

Mount Sumbing in the west of Magelang city, Central Java, looks very beautiful from the window of the veranda in the morning. The slope of the mountain is green with tobacco plants. The panorama is like a pretty painting on canvas.

There is indeed no direct relationship between tobacco and paintings. For Deddy Irianto, 43, the owner of the house in the elite housing compound of Taman Wisata Kyai Langgeng Magelang, tobacco and painting are intertwined.

Starting his tobacco business in 1994, he is now one of the most successful businesspeople in Magelang.

Irianto is not only known as a tobacco businessman but also a painting collector. Being an art collector/dealer has been a sort of trademark for Magelang's fabulously wealthy tobacco traders. Uniquely, Magelang's tobacco businessmen treat paintings like they do the commodity of their core business.

In the tobacco business, the busiest time of the year only lasts for three to four months -- usually between August and November, the months for the tobacco harvest. As these tradesmen make a lot of money from selling tobacco, they also turn to selling paintings.

For some people, these tobacco traders-cum-painting collectors and dealers are often cynically called kolekdol, a Javanese acronym meaning "collect and resale". A businessman will buy some paintings and then sell them again, just like what they do in the tobacco trade.

For these tobacco traders paintings are just as profitable a commodity. If you know the right paintings to buy you can make money quickly.

"These kolekdol businessmen do not see paintings in terms of esthetics but in terms of how fast they can rake in profits," said Irianto, who avows he does not belong to this group. He has been a painting collector for three years now and has collected about 100 paintings.

Still, he maintains, some collectors in Magelang have a high appreciation of art.

"Usually, they view paintings as long-term investments. So, the presence of these collectors will do no harm to artists. Nor do they dictate the market prices. If these collectors are only after profit, the artists will simply cater to the market taste. A sound art market will be one that gives freedom to artists to produce their work," he said.

To show his commitment to educating art lovers, Irianto set up Studio Budaya & Galeri a year ago at his home. The gallery reflects the idealism and vision to promote good-quality paintings.

To mark the first anniversary of the gallery last March, Irianto organized the Magelang Art Festival, featuring famous national artists of various genre, among others, WS Rendra, Harry Rusli, Made Wianta, Arahmaiani, Tisna Sanjaya, Eko Supriyanto, Sapto Raharjo and Slamet Gundono.

At first the presence of the gallery was received with cynicism as was the March festival. Among the skeptics is the Magelang regency government. But the skepticism has failed to dampen Irianto's spirit.

"I could afford it now so I just gave it a go. Is there a regulation prohibiting someone from inviting great artists to their house? What I am doing will also benefit the arts," he said.

Irianto's gallery focuses on Indonesian contemporary arts that he hopes will achieve international recognition.

"If you happen to browse through a foreign art book, for example from an Asian country, it will be difficult to find advertisements about Indonesian paintings. Of course, you can find works by Vietnamese, Chinese and Korean painters but not by Indonesian artists," said Irianto, a graduate of UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles).

Irianto believes many Indonesian painters have great potential and artistic enthusiasm. Unfortunately, they have not gained recognition in the international art market.

Through his gallery, Irianto aims to build a good market network at home and overseas -- something vital to promote Indonesian arts. Another thing that he wants to do is to organize major art events.

"It is my dream to organize a biennial art festival in Magelang. This event will indirectly promote contemporary art. As far as I know, this event has long been absent in Yogyakarta, a city known to have a lot of very talented artists," said Irianto.

Irianto is an organizer of the Borobudur cultural festival that will last until June 27, 2003. He is a guest lecturer at the management master's program at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.

He said he has often been treated with suspicion for what he has been doing for the arts simply because he is a Chinese- Indonesian. Even his wife does not like it -- for a different reason -- as she claims he spends "too much money" on things like the Magelang Art Festival.

Still, Irianto believes that the future for Indonesian paintings is quite bright.

"Professionalism on the part of the artists and a good marketing network are the key to the world market," he said.