In a museum in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, rests a bright-yellow 1976 Mitsubishi Galant GTO with a colorful tail fin, detailed in emerald green and scarlet. It’s not parked outside the building; rather, it has pride of place int the main gallery, complete with a rope surround and a spotlight. But this is not La Gioconda, and you’re not in the Louvre. This really is Affandi’s Ride, the car in which arguably the most crucial Indonesian artist of the twentieth century roared across the city until he died in 1990; and you’re in the Affandi Museum, a jumble of buildings along the Gajah Wong River that Affandi built himself. His paintings-wild landscapes and inciteful, almost psychedelic portraits-still fetch tens of thousands of dollars, but it’s his crazy muscle car that stays with you, so idiosyncratic and unexpected in a museum. A cultural surprise, similar to Yogyakarta itself.
Occur the eastern part of Java-Indonesia’s fifth-largest island and the world’s most populous-Yogyakarta will be the country’s nexus of traditional arts. It is also the 17,000-island archipelago’s most-visited destination after Bali, an undeniable fact which includes much concerning its proximity towards the extraordinary Buddhist temples of Borobudur and also the equally impressive Hindu ones of Prambanan, both lower than an hour’s drive away.
Wayang kulit, Indonesia’s intricate shadow puppetry, was created here greater than a thousand in the past. So was batik, a few hundred later; paket tour jogja designs-complex geometrical and graphic patterns, usually painted in rich browns and deep blues on white-are thought among the most beautiful by textile collectors. (Some were limited to Javanese royalty; commoners are still forbidden to put on them in certain tombs and palaces.) In Kota Gede, Yogyakarta’s old town, built greater than 400 years ago through the immensely wealthy Mataram sultanate, the streets are extremely narrow that they have to be navigated on foot or by tuk-tuk; often you barely must reach your arms out for your fingertips to graze the walls on each side.
But Yogya, as locals call it, is also the incubator for Indonesia’s next generation of artists and gatekeepers of culture. The global enthusiasm for your country since its first democratically elected president, Joko Widodo, took his seat last fall is dovetailing with the perennial hunger among art collectors for the Next Big Thing. Which means that if you’re interested in the contemporary art of Asia, Indonesia is a very interesting place at this time. The reinstitution (after having a seven-year absence) in the Indonesia Pavilion in the 2013 Venice Biennale-underwritten by billionaire Indonesian-Chinese businessman Budi Tek, whose collection includes functions by Anselm Kiefer and Anish Kapoor along with others by Agus Suwage, Eko Nugroho, and Puto Sutwijaya, some of his very own country’s biggest artists-had been a major statement.
The city’s Biennale is, at 26 years, Asia’s longest-running; however it is Art Fair Jogja, inaugurated in 2011, which has garnered international attention featuring its commissioned thematic exhibitions. This past year, delegates from Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Gagosian, and Tate Modern were spotted scouting in the Taman Budaya Art Center in search of the following Nyoman Masriadi-a Yogyakarta-based Balinese whose The Person from Bantul (The Last Round) triptych, a political allegory featuring three of his signature monumental black-skinned figures in a boxing ring, sold at auction in Hong Kong not too long ago for more than $1 million.
Masriadi has become represented by Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York City, which showcased his work prominently at Art Basel Miami Beach in December; Nugroho has had recent exhibitions in Berlin (at Arndt), Hong Kong (Lehmann Maupin), and Newport Beach, California (the Orange County Museum of Art). Gagosian cares enough about the market to possess installed a representative in Jakarta full-time this past year. And Ben Brown, an English dealer with galleries in London’s Mayfair and also the Pedder Building in Hong Kong, brought a show of major contemporary Indonesian artists towards the U.K. in 2012, less than a year following the exhibition “Indonesian Eye: Fantasies & Realities” at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea. “It’s definitely a powerful market,” Brown says, not simply in Asia but globally. “I’d attribute it in part to the reality that China now looks overpriced, and also to the Indonesian collectors creating a big mark on the international scene.”
While many of these artists have lived and worked in Yogya (or still do), the spot is less about watching the market and more about quiet creativity. That has been a crucial part of their life for years and years: The town houses both Indonesia’s oldest and most prestigious fine arts academy as well as the erstwhile Kingdom of Java’s richest sultans (meaning probably the most talented artisans and performers historically based themselves here).
When you explore, you’ll discover art in enclaves of surprising quiet and sweetness amid the hornet’s nest of traffic. (Using a population of just below 400,000, Yogyakarta is pretty chaotic-and therefore best navigated xrfvih a personal car and driver.) At Langgeng Art Foundation, founder/director Deddy Irianto hosts exhibits, residencies for visiting artists, and commissioned projects in a combination of airy white cubes punctuated with a café as well as an internal garden. A 20-minute ride towards the side of town brings you to the Sarang Building, which features emerging local talent and is worth a visit for the gorgeous galleries and outdoor exhibition pavilion alone.
Cemeti Art Foundation, which helped put Yogyakarta on the contemporary map if it launched inside the mid-’90s, operates out of a bungalow nearby the old city. Its Dutch founder, Mella Jaarsma, states that Yogya outguns Jakarta among serious aficionados, regardless of the latter’s push to dominate the gallery scene. “The money may be in Jakarta,” she says, “but the genuine interest has arrived.”