After what feels like an eternity, art fair travel has finally flared back to life and we’re kicking things off with a first look at Art Jakarta 2022!
With a reputation for being one of the hottest locations in the regional art circuit, this year’s fair has been building up to an exciting crescendo. Our inboxes had been filling up with invitations to parties and events well before the fair and we were full of giddy anticipation. Still, after close to three years of zero travel for art, we were a little nervous — what kind of art world would we be coming back to? Would it still be as engaging and lively after so many years of pandemic hell? With NFTs mushrooming everywhere and the proliferation of virtual viewing galleries (and goodness, the invention of a whole new metaverse within which to view art), would a brick-and-mortar art presentation have the same appeal?
Well, if the offerings at Art Jakarta are anything to go by, the answer is yes, yes and yes.
If you’re in Jakarta and minded to check out the fair this weekend, here’s our hot list of the top 5 things you shouldn’t miss.
1. The hidden room full of NFT performance art
NFT exhibitions these days feel a lot like club nights out – the alcohol flows freely and live, thumping DJ beats accompany you as you attempt to take in all the works. At Art Jakarta however, we walked right past Work in Progress, an NFT project by The Monday Art Club and Gaspack.
We rounded the corner and all of a sudden, found ourselves in a darkened room full of people working together on NFTs. In the screens around the room, visitors could view themselves as they proceeded to surveil the artists at work.
The presentation here seeks to convey the idea that NFTs “serve a more valuable purpose than that of just being a medium of exchange and investment.” Collaboration and experimentation are instead what’s needed to buttress the Web3 ecosystem. As a result, the first room in this booth has been turned into a physical piece of performance art of sorts, as NFT artists sit and gather to collaborate on artworks while gallery visitors stand around and watch them. On each day of the fair, four artists will collaborate onsite to create a single artwork which will be minted in an edition of ten. The presentation is evocatively-lit and the artists — when we saw them — were rather still. We found ourselves wondering if they were live human beings or animatronics of some kind!
And just when you think that you’ve come to the end of the presentation, you turn a corner and hurtle right into another dark room with spectral images floating eerily all around you:
This was such a fully immersive experience, and frankly one of the most entertaining and intelligent NFT presentations that we’ve seen in a while.
Find Work in Progress at Booth N1
2. The art fair booth that isn’t actually selling anything
No, you read that heading right the first time. ShanghART Gallery, with offices in Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore is featuring the works of artist Xu Zhen, none of which will be available for sale at the fair. Rather, the paintings made for Xu’s project SIGNAL, have been gifted to various selected art world players.
At the art fair booth, the mobile phone-sized works will be displayed one at a time, on a rotating basis, but as they have all already been spoken for, you won’t be able to actually purchase anything. Instead, you’ll be invited to snap photos and share the images on social media with hashtags such as #xuzhensignal. The owners of the works will be doing the same remotely from wherever they are located. This succession of paintings on the wall of the booth constitutes the physical exhibition. The result is a conceptual and physical exhibition of Xu’s work that traverses the boundaries of the physical art fair and leaps right into the world of social media.
You might be thinking that if the works are simply given away, how will the artist make any money? Well, the gallery certainly isn’t disclosing anything. A gallery spokesperson told us that, “for now, the idea of the project is to reach out to as many people as possible, expanding the network and outreach of XU ZHEN® as a brand.”
“Similar to an exclusive giveaway or an NFT airdrop, the project hinges on the status of the participants and their influence to help spread the brand further. As to how (Xu) will eventually monetise the project, this is something that only the artist would know for now.”
The works displayed at the booth come from the artist’s Passion series, and are abstract, textured representations of swirling greens, greys and whites:
And, at any given time, the whole exhibition booth simply looks like this:
The display prompts many questions. Is a work more or less desirable if it’s never been put up for sale, there’s no obvious market value for it, and collectors have to be invited to hold it? Would that make you not want it at all, or would you desire it even more? How does one’s personal aesthetic appreciation of the paintings factor into all of this? Does it even matter, if the art world is all about social media hype these days?
With this bold project, ShanghART Gallery’s booth at Art Jakarta has been turned itself, into a participative piece of conceptual art, prompting questions about commodity culture, consumerism, and how art collectors should be thinking about the value of their works.
Find ShanghART Gallery at Booth B12. Artwork images courtesy of ShanghART Gallery.
3. The gallery venturing overseas for the first time since the pandemic
When the pandemic lockdowns first hit, Stephanie Fong of Singapore’s FOST Gallery had mixed feelings.
“On one hand,” she explains, “the momentum we had been building with fairs over the years screeched to a halt. On the other, (I felt) a sense of relief. My travel schedule was hectic and maybe it was a good thing for the art world to have a sabbatical, we are not known to be an environmentally-friendly industry.”
This edition of Art Jakarta will be the gallery’s first physical fair since the COVID-19 lockdowns and its presentation is a deeply thoughtful one — artists Yeo Tze Yang and Elaine Navas offer up paintings of the Southeast Asian everyday. Starkly realistic Asian groceries and urban shopfronts are just some of the images on display, reminding viewers of the deeper visual strands that bind the Southeast Asian region, in spite of the varying levels of economic development amongst its member nations. Yeo and Navas’ paintings could truly be scenes from any Southeast Asian city. The plurality of the artists’ own backgrounds lends a deeper resonance to the works as well — Navas hails from Manila but lives in Singapore and exhibits frequently in both countries, and Yeo while Singaporean-Chinese, speaks fluent Malay and has exhibited both in Singapore and Malaysia.
Amidst these realistic paintings, Sebastian Mary Tay’s newest series of photographic prints offers “a glimpse into a fragment of the metaverse,” a nod perhaps to Indonesia’s status as one of the fastest growing digital economies in Southeast Asia. For both Tay and Yeo, this is a first outing to Art Jakarta.
In socio-political and art historical terms, it’s almost impossible to frame Southeast Asia as a unified whole, but FOST’s offering at Art Jakarta makes a manful attempt to bring together a tightly curated and contemplative look at the aesthetic qualities that connect us.
Find FOST Gallery at Booth B7. Images courtesy of FOST Gallery.
4. The display that isn’t even a booth at all
This year, fifteen curated large-scale artworks have been displayed all over the fair’s venue for visitors to interact with and encounter as they roam about the gallery booths. The works were in general, very strong indeed, but Dedy Sufriyadi’s installation, Membangun Literasi Indonesia Baru / Building A New Indonesian Literacy was a particular crowd favourite:
The artist is an avid reader himself and has incorporated physical copies of books into a steel and cement structure as a statement on literacy in Indonesia.
Through this work, the artist expresses a sense of optimism about Indonesia’s development in all fields, including that of literacy. Regardless of the global shift from analogue to digital forms of information, he still sees books as the building blocks of human development, and has obsessively compiled them to create an immersive sculpture. His work envelopes viewers who choose to enter it, and it’s a powerful expression of the ability of books to transport readers into all-consuming new worlds.
5. The booth that will settle your weary spirits
Bandung gallery Bale Project was a breath of fresh air in the mad crush of the fair’s opening day. While it’s great to be back out in the trenches with fellow art lovers, it can also be a bit overwhelming. Bale Project’s works called out to us as we were powering down for the day. Made Wiguna Valasara’s Collective Figment works, made of thread on stuffed canvases were paired excellently with his Alienated Cosmic figures.
At first glance, it feels like the stuffed figures have escaped from their canvas restraints and run off to freedom on the walls below. The framed canvases above them seem to bleed out thread in a colourful, riotous profusion. The overall effect is one of mess and disturbance, but it’s a joyful noise — one that’s hard to tear your eyes away from.
Meliantha Muliawan’s Don’t Let Reality Slip Away series of sculptures offers an interesting counterpoint, with spidery threads in resin looking as though they have melted into recycled plastic plates.
Move further into the booth and you’ll encounter soothing works by Nurrachmat Widyasena and Satria T. Nugraha.
While it might be difficult to visualise how these minimalistic pieces might work on their own, they are placed together here, to great effect by the team at Bale Project. (A simple solution of course might be to just purchase them all, if they’re still around after opening day!)
Find Bale Project at Booth B3
Art Jakarta 2022 runs till 28 August 2022, at the Jakarta Convention Center (JCC), Senayan. This is the first edition of the international flagship art fair since 2019 and the pandemic.