by Harry PEARL
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AFP) — Indonesia’s first international gallery of contemporary art opens Saturday, bringing together works by Ai Weiwei, Mark Rothko and Indonesian masters in a freeflowing modern space overlooking the Jakarta skyline.
The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN) holds nearly 800 paintings and sculptures, and aims to provide a world-class gallery to a country starved of quality museum infrastructure.
The collection, mostly acquired by businessman Haryanto Adikoesoemo over the past 25 years, is showcased in an airy 4,000 square metre space on the fifth floor of a city tower.
Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago nation of more than 250 million people, is home to a vibrant art scene but lacks high-quality museums.
“What we are offering is something very different to what already exists in Indonesia. We are one of kind in a sense of our international and national focus,” museum director Aaron Seeto told AFP.
The opening underlines growing interest in Southeast Asian art and comes amid a number of high-profile gallery launches this year outside of Europe and North America.
Cape Town’s Zeitz MOCAA opened in September and the Louvre Abu Dhabi is set to open this month.
Seeto said Museum MACAN is uniquely positioned to boost the profile of Southeast Asian art.
“We really want to encourage cultural exchange, but also working relationships with other museums around the world.”
Around half the museum’s collection is Indonesian, and the remainder takes in international works including paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Willem de Kooning, and sculptures by Yayoi Kusama and Damien Hirst.
Designed by London’s MET Studio, the museum will also feature conservation and education spaces, which Seeto hopes will help boost the appreciation of art within Indonesia.
– Civic role –
The gallery’s inaugural exhibition “Art Turns. World Turns” features 90 pieces from Indonesian and international artists.
Works by Raden Saleh, the founder of modern Indonesian painting, hang alongside pop artist Andy Warhol and Chinese realist Luo Zhongli.
Several pieces tackle issues pertinent to current political debate in Indonesia.
FX Harsono weighs in on the treatment of ethnic-Chinese minorities in his painting “Wipe Out #1”, while Balinese artist Dewa Ngakan Made Ardana addresses Indonesia’s 1960s anti-communist massacres in “A Father is Trying to Collect the Memories of His Family”.
Arahmaiani Feisal’s painting “Lingga-Yoni”, meanwhile, is being displayed for the first time since she was forced to flee Indonesia in the 1990s.
The painting, which overlays Hindu iconography of male and female genitalia on Arabic script, infuriated Islamic hardliners who threatened to kill her.
Seeto said the piece was an important acquisition for the museum and highlights the future role it can play in fostering discussion.
“Even though we are a private museum we very much consider that what we do occurs within the public sphere,” he said.
“The museum has a civic responsibility”.
© Agence France-Presse