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Jakarta Jamming

I bet you’re thinking this is just another story about just another art fair.

Well, I’ve got news for you, Art Jakarta is not just another art fair. This year’s edition has been hotly anticipated for weeks in Singapore.

“Will I be seeing you in Jakarta?” was perhaps the most common refrain amongst Singapore-based collectors and art lovers at openings and events in the last month or so. It was like a giant open secret about what was tipped to be the cool new party in the neighbourhood—if you knew, you knew.

Art institutions, galleries, and artists have pulled together to create a vibrant environment which grabs you by the hand and places your finger firmly on the pulse of the Indonesian contemporary art scene. With exhibitions on concurrently at Museum MACAN, the Galeri Nasional Indonesia and Ciputra Artpreneur Museum amongst others, Museum MACAN Director Aaron Seeto quite rightly observed that a number of players have collaborated to achieve an “art week” of sorts in Jakarta.

For now, fresh from the opening night of Art Jakarta 2019, we bring you 5 works we think you shouldn’t miss if you’re visiting the fair.

1) Cheuk Wing Nam, Silence—Meditation in Blue, 2019

To enter this work, you draw back a curtain and step into something that feels like the movie Tron. It’s all dark tones and fluorescent blue outlines. Silence—Meditation in Blue is an interactive sound installation made of turbine fans and water pipes, aiming to evoke the silence which comes at the end of Yves Klein’s Monotone Symphony. Incorporating an element of audience interactivity, the turbine fans switch on and pipes emit sounds when viewers walk past, triggering light beams on the floor.

It was a wonderful bit of respite from the fair, as the crowds packed into the space, and also an elegant reference to the interconnectedness of artistic influences across geographies and cultures. Klein was for example, deeply influenced by Eastern philosophies. Commentators have observed that his Monotone-Silence Symphony appears to have been inspired by tenets similar to those found in Zen Buddhism.

2) Eko Nugroho, Moving Landscape, 2015 and Happy to be Alienated, 2019

At some points during my walkthrough of Art Jakarta, I felt like Eko Nugroho was all around me. His kitschy, comic-inspired signature style seemed to pop up both in his own works as well as those of other Indonesian artists.

Here he is, in a collaboration with Renoscape by Oppo:

Bermimpi Dan Menghidupkan Mimpi, 2019 (translation: Dreaming and Living the Dream)

And here are his works Moving Landscape (the large embroidery work) and Happy to be Alienated (the sculpture) which provided stunning entry points to the fair:

The shrouded man confronting an intricate and overwhelming hanging? It was such a great visual metaphor for the complexities associated with art buying and the trepidation faced by new buyers and collectors.

3) Uji Hahan Handoko, Money Man, 2019

In a fair which featured many familiar names in the Indonesian art scene, this sculpture made me look twice.

I would not have immediately identified it as a piece by artist Uji Hahan Handoko, but for the currency symbols on the work, which seemed familiar and yet not. His usual pop art and graffiti-inspired graphics appeared to have faded away and solidified into something with much greater heft and depth.

Tessa Wong and Jasdeep Sandhu of Gajah Gallery commented, “we are very happy to work with Hahan who has for the first time produced sculptures in bronze. It’s a huge transformation from his previous sculptural works which were mostly in resin.”

“There’s something very exciting about his work. As a young artist, there’s a certain amount of maturity that you now see coming into his work, which is putting him quite above some of the more internationally renowned street artists,” they explained.

(P/S: While we quietly observed footfall at the Gajah Gallery  booth, we noticed that a number of collectors sought further information about this most unusual of works.)

4) Ronald Ventura, Bobro’s World Tour, Jakarta, 2019

Where do we start with this work?

Yavuz Gallery is fast acquiring a reputation for fun, bright and incredibly arresting works at regional fairs. Most recently, Yeo Kaa’s attention-grabbing performance at S.E.A. Focus was picked up by a number of media outlets. Here at Art Jakarta, the gallery knocks it out of the park once again with Ronald Ventura’s ‘man cave.’

Complete with sneakerhead paraphernalia, Chesterfield sofas and a fully functioning karaoke room featuring semi-pornographic videos of women, the installation entertains from the moment one steps through the jaws of the gaudy golden beast.

Is it a dog? Or a lion? Who can tell?

And who cares, when the room it leads into is such an assault on the senses?

First impressions upon entering the ‘man-cave’
A closer look

It made us think of toxic masculinity, conspicuous consumption and bro culture, all wrapped up in an incongruously fun package of song and fluorescent joy.

The karaoke machine which made for endless hours of off-key singing by exhibition visitors

When Stella Chang, Director of Yavuz Gallery  was asked whether a work like Ventura’s could have been shown at the previous iteration of Art Jakarta, the answer was a resounding, “absolutely not.”

“We would not even have been able to get that mouth through the front door,” she laughed, explaining that the hotel ballroom which played host to previous fairs was far too small to house such an artwork.

Commenting that newly-appointed Art Jakarta Director Tom Tandio had taken to his role “like a fish to water,” Chang also made reference to the bonded warehouse located within the premises of the fair, which made for convenient and easy shipping of works to purchasers.

5) Huang Po-Chih, Production Line, 2019

This uniform row of denim shirts hung uneasily in an event whose opening day saw all manner of fanciful dressing.

Taiwanese artist Huang Po-Chih presented these shirts which had been constructed in Shenzhen and Taipei as a nod to the working life of his mother, a former textile factory worker. The work makes reference to the outsourcing of the clothing industry over the past 30 years from Taiwan to Shenzhen, inviting viewers to consider the “universality of capitalism.” It’s meant to be a “relocation” of sorts, prompting us to think about commodity culture and the interchangeability of the things that we buy.

One can never escape the clubby elite aura that descends upon almost every single major art fair. When a fair opens, visitors revert to a kind of high school awkwardness with the cool kids being gawked at, and the noobs hoping to blend into the background. Galleries pose with their best-in-show collectors, often seating them at their booths like little kings and queens in high-end designer robes. The champagne flows freely, but only if you, in the words of L’oreal, are worth it.

What then distinguishes an expensive artwork from a bunch of generic China-made shirts, especially when both have pride of place in an art exhibition? How do people who produce articles like these shirts, live and work? Are these conditions fair? These are exactly the kinds of questions we should be thinking about, and the kind of art that we should be seeing more of.


Art Jakarta runs this weekend till 1 September. If you’re in Jakarta, be sure to check it out.


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