In a museum in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, sits a bright-yellow 1976 Mitsubishi Galant GTO having a colorful tail fin, detailed in bright green and scarlet. It’s not parked outside 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 important 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 constructed himself. His paintings-wild landscapes and provocative, almost psychedelic portraits-still fetch thousands and thousands of dollars, but it’s his crazy muscle car that stays with you, so idiosyncratic and surprising in a museum. A cultural surprise, similar to Yogyakarta itself.
Placed in the eastern a part of Java-Indonesia’s fifth-largest island and also the world’s most populous-Yogyakarta will be the country’s nexus of traditional arts. It is additionally the 17,000-island archipelago’s most-visited destination after Bali, a well known fact which has much related to its proximity for the extraordinary Buddhist temples of Borobudur as well as the equally impressive Hindu ones of Prambanan, both less than an hour’s drive away.
Wayang kulit, Indonesia’s intricate shadow puppetry, was created here over a thousand years ago. 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 one of the most beautiful by textile collectors. (Some were limited to Javanese royalty; commoners continue to be forbidden to put on them in particular tombs and palaces.) In Kota Gede, Yogyakarta’s old town, built a lot more than 400 years back through the immensely wealthy Mataram sultanate, the streets are extremely narrow that they need to be navigated on foot or by tuk-tuk; often you barely must reach your arms out to your fingertips to graze the walls on either side.
But Yogya, as locals refer to it as, is additionally the incubator for Indonesia’s next generation of artists and gatekeepers of culture. The worldwide enthusiasm for the country since its first democratically elected president, Joko Widodo, took his seat last fall is dovetailing using the perennial hunger among art collectors for the Next Big Thing. Because of this if you’re considering the contemporary art of Asia, Indonesia is definitely a interesting place right now. The reinstitution (after having a seven-year absence) of 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, a few of his very own country’s biggest artists-was actually a major statement.
The city’s Biennale is, at 26 years, Asia’s longest-running; but it is Art Fair Jogja, inaugurated in the year 2011, which has garnered international attention using its commissioned thematic exhibitions. Last year, delegates from Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Gagosian, and Tate Modern were spotted scouting on the Taman Budaya Art Center searching for another Nyoman Masriadi-a Yogyakarta-based Balinese whose The Man 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 some time 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 already established 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 get installed a representative in Jakarta full time this past year. And Ben Brown, an English dealer with galleries in London’s Mayfair and the Pedder Building in Hong Kong, brought a show of major contemporary Indonesian artists to the U.K. in 2012, under a year after the exhibition “Indonesian Eye: Fantasies & Realities” in the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea. “It’s definitely a strong market,” Brown says, not only in Asia but globally. “I’d attribute it partly to the reality that China now looks overpriced, and also to the Indonesian collectors creating a big mark on the international scene.”
While most of these artists have lived and worked in Yogya (or still do), the spot is less about watching the current market and more about quiet creativity. That has been a crucial part of its life for centuries: The metropolis houses both Indonesia’s oldest and most 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).
While you explore, you’ll discover art in enclaves of surprising quiet and sweetness amid the hornet’s nest of traffic. (Having a population of just under 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 number of airy white cubes punctuated with a café and an internal garden. A 20-minute ride towards the fringe of town brings you to the Sarang Building, which features emerging local talent and it is worth a visit because of its gorgeous galleries and outdoor exhibition pavilion alone.
Cemeti Art Foundation, which helped put Yogyakarta on the contemporary map if it launched in 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, despite the latter’s push to dominate the gallery scene. “The money could be in Jakarta,” she says, “but the genuine interest is here.”