In a museum in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, rests a bright-yellow 1976 Mitsubishi Galant GTO with a flamboyant tail fin, detailed in bright green and scarlet. It’s not parked outside of the building; rather, it has pride of place int the main gallery, including a rope surround and a spotlight. But this is not La Gioconda, and you’re not in the Louvre. This can be Affandi’s Ride, the car in which certainly the most crucial Indonesian artist of the twentieth century roared round 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 constructed himself. His paintings-wild landscapes and inciteful, almost psychedelic portraits-still fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it’s his crazy muscle car that stays along with you, so idiosyncratic and surprising in a museum. A cultural surprise, just like Yogyakarta itself.
Occur the eastern element of Java-Indonesia’s fifth-largest island as well as the world’s most populous-Yogyakarta is the country’s nexus of traditional arts. Additionally it is the 17,000-island archipelago’s most-visited destination after Bali, a fact which has much to do with its proximity for the extraordinary Buddhist temples of Borobudur and the equally impressive Hindu ones of Prambanan, both lower than an hour’s drive away.
Wayang kulit, Indonesia’s intricate shadow puppetry, was born here greater than a thousand in the past. So was batik, a couple of hundred later; paket tour jogja designs-complex geometrical and graphic patterns, usually painted in rich browns and deep blues on white-are thought some of the most beautiful by textile collectors. (Some were exclusive to Javanese royalty; commoners are still forbidden to use them in some tombs and palaces.) In Kota Gede, Yogyakarta’s old town, built a lot more than 400 years ago by the immensely wealthy Mataram sultanate, the streets are so narrow that they need 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 consider it, can also be 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 all the perennial hunger among art collectors for the Next Big Thing. Because of this if you’re interested in the contemporary art of Asia, Indonesia is definitely a interesting place today. The reinstitution (after having a seven-year absence) in the Indonesia Pavilion on the 2013 Venice Biennale-underwritten by billionaire Indonesian-Chinese businessman Budi Tek, whose collection includes works by Anselm Kiefer and Anish Kapoor together with others by Agus Suwage, Eko Nugroho, and Puto Sutwijaya, a few of their own country’s biggest artists-was actually a major statement.
The city’s Biennale is, at 26 years, Asia’s longest-running; however it is Art Fair Jogja, inaugurated this year, which includes garnered international attention with its commissioned thematic exhibitions. Last year, delegates from Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Gagosian, and Tate Modern were spotted scouting in the Taman Budaya Art Center looking for the following Nyoman Masriadi-a Yogyakarta-based Balinese whose The Guy from Bantul (The Final Round) triptych, a political allegory featuring three of his signature monumental black-skinned figures in a boxing ring, sold at auction in Hong Kong a few years ago for longer than $1 million.
Masriadi is currently represented by Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York, 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 regarding the market to get installed a representative in Jakarta full-time this past year. And Ben Brown, an English dealer with galleries in London’s Mayfair as well as the Pedder Building in Hong Kong, brought a show of major contemporary Indonesian artists to the U.K. in 2012, less than a year after the exhibition “Indonesian Eye: Fantasies & Realities” on the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea. “It’s definitely a strong market,” Brown says, not just in Asia but globally. “I’d attribute it to some extent to the reality that China now looks overpriced, as well as the Indonesian collectors making a big mark on the international scene.”
While many of these artists have lived and worked in Yogya (or still do), the area is less about watching the market and much more about quiet creativity. Which has been a crucial part of the life for hundreds of years: The city houses both Indonesia’s oldest and many prestigious fine arts academy and also the erstwhile Kingdom of Java’s richest sultans (meaning by far the most talented artisans and performers historically based themselves here).
When you explore, you’ll discover art in enclaves of surprising quiet and beauty amid the hornet’s nest of traffic. (Having a population of just under 400,000, Yogyakarta is quite chaotic-and for that reason best navigated xrfvih an exclusive car and driver.) At Langgeng Art Foundation, founder/director Deddy Irianto hosts exhibits, residencies for visiting artists, and commissioned projects in a series of airy white cubes punctuated by way of a café and an internal garden. A 20-minute ride towards the side of town brings you to definitely the Sarang Building, which features emerging local talent and it is worth a visit for the gorgeous galleries and outdoor exhibition pavilion alone.
Cemeti Art Foundation, which helped put Yogyakarta on the contemporary map when it launched within the mid-’90s, operates out of a bungalow close to the old city. Its Dutch founder, Mella Jaarsma, says that Yogya outguns Jakarta among serious aficionados, despite the latter’s push to dominate the gallery scene. “The money could be in Jakarta,” she says, “but the genuine interest has arrived.”