(Infrastructure, Museum, History) of Indonesian Art – English Version

Renate Kant and Helena Spanjaard’s writings in www.svastisarasvati.com should complement the “Fine Art Round Table Discussion: Indonesian Modern Paintings”, held in May 24, 2012 at the National Gallery, Jakarta.

When I was asked to speak at the discussion, I was assured by the organizers that the planned round table discussion is not intended to directly question the outstanding issues that have been circulating in the social media network, whether a number of paintings displayed at the inauguration of the Third Wing of OHD Museum (beginning April 2012) are fake or not. I originally intended to open this round table discussion with a lecture on modern art in Indonesia and its relation to art history. I, therefore, took into account when my presentation will be associated with paintings controversy at the inauguration of the Third Wing of OHD Museum issue that would thrive on the discussion, it will be related to the problems which is now posed by Renate Kant and Helena Spanjaard in www.svastisarasvati.com.

But, apparently, that did not happen. The forum discussion evolved into questioning of whether the paintings in the inauguration of the Third Wing OHD Museum are fake or not. Most curators that were invited as speakers at the round table discussion felt that we are in the wrong position. Some speakers are trying to confirm their feelings to me through whispers and I pointed out, “I think it is not our forum.” Hence, insights and viewpoints appeared on the discussion (reflecting of more confusion, including my views) “had no sound”.

The discussions that took place in the forum were from audience’s opinions. Beginning from dr. Oei Hong Djien’s clarification and ends with debates whether his paintings collection at the inauguration of the Third Wing OHD Museum, are fake or not. But I can understand the development of this discussion because the discussion (debate) has been awaited and expected by the participants.

OHD Museum’s Controversy Assessment
But Sarasvati Art Management, organizers of the round table discussion didn’t stop at the May 24, 2012 discussion. Discussion proceedings issuance that is carefully structured published on www.svastisarasvati.com triggered the continuation of this discussion. I had imagined that Renate Kant and Helena Spanjaard ‘s insights brings me back to the round table discussion, however, that did not occur.

I saw the opportunity disclosed in Helena Spanjaard’s writing who raised the issue of the art infrastructure and Indonesian art history that interest me and led me to develop this paper. But I felt that her writing has not provoke polemic since her art infrastructure issues has been discussed frequently. In addition, I cannot find her stand as an art historian when connecting both issues with the controversy that emerged at the inauguration of the Third Wing Museum OHD (referred as to controversy of OHD Museum).

Renate Kant’s writings are very meaningful and complement Helena Spanjaard’s. This paper opens up the possibility for art infrastructure, art history and the museum’s position for infrastructure discussion as it enters the various details. In addition, her description of the painting restoration in Indonesia can attribute to art infrastructure issues in controversy of OHD Museum. The paintings that triggered this controversy, acknowledged dr. Oei, were paintings that underwent restoration (in Singapore). Her insights brings me to write this article.

In her writing, Renate sees that painting restoration in Indonesia only rely on eyesight and does not realize the importance of knowledge, for example, the authenticity of damages (damages that should not be hidden), the signs of the restored painting language, its connection with the development of art, and the concept/ideology of the artist. Therefore, Renata stated that it is not difficult for a knowledgeable expert restorer or art historian to find the irregularities in the results of such restoration.

Both Renate Kant and Helena Spanjaard concluded that such restoration symptoms happened due to restoration that occurred in Indonesia are more about art market issues. As we know, in the art market, a deep knowledge of a painting bought is not important. Renate’s writings elaborate based on her experience by observing paintings undergoing restoration in the Indonesia art market. She found, among others, the symptoms of beautification in the restoration process that aims to make the restored paintings become more attractive to be bought.

As a professional restorator, Renate was surprised. She writes, “My heart has been bleeding over the years due to the further loss of material to study the material and the irreversible destruction of paintings throughout the country.” This kind of restoration could immediately eliminate the authenticity of historic paintings and destroy its values. Paintings such as these are no longer worth to be collected.

Paintings that triggered the controversy of OHD Museum couldn’t escape from such restoration symptoms. It is very likely that these paintings had to undergo a restoration process that didn’t pay any attention about the background knowledge I have mentioned. The symptoms are coincidently pretty obvious. By just looking at the painting’s reproduction from the exhibition catalog, a number of paintings of Soedjojono and Soedibio, in my opinion, is not worth [again] to be discussed as Soedjojono or Soedibio’s, let alone investigated further to discover whether there are historically significant.

Helena Spanjaard who is adequate enough to identify the signs of Soedjojono’s paintings should be able to (at least) see the symptoms. I therefore wondered why she, in her writing, suspend the judgment and wait until the “Indonesian art infrastructure” –that she claimed to be vulnerable – is proven [through research] that the paintings are fake. I really do not see the relevance of this matter. For me, it’s not important anymore whether the paintings are fake or not; whether the paintings had undergo restoration was fake or not.

However, the issues should still be considered as a museum’s issue rather a fake painting issue. Initially, we have to consider OHD Museum’s role on the development of Indonesian art. The issue behind the efforts that run into an “accident” is still associated with a constellation of values that its standards lies in the mechanism of the art infrastructure. In this case the authenticity issues give impact on the readability of the values.

Not many museums in Indonesia are representative enough to be associated with the art infrastructure issues. However in my observations the National Gallery in Jakarta, Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics in Jakarta Old Town, Pusat Kesenian Jakarta Taman Ismail Marzuki (where collections of the Jakarta Arts Council lies), and OHD Museum (the only private museum mentioned) fit these issues.

The collections of the museums was known to the public because it could be accessed or because it was raised through publicity. Therefore, problems that arise in this museum became a public issue (community). However, the involvement of communities must be taken into account with the differences of a private museum and a public museum which is funded by the community. Hence the idea of making a petition appeared on the controversy of OHD Museum was inelegant and out of place.

Yet, the museum’s issues didn’t arise. As we all know, the controversy of OHD Museum is fully developed into a frenzy of fake painting rumors which is a more viable to be seen as economy & business issue or criminality rather than fine art issue. In my observations, the issues that arise from this controversy did not propose anything to the development of our art, and even tends to be counter-productive.

The worst issue is the nonsensical word of mouth which said that 60% of OHD Museum collection are fake (where did this figure came from?). I visited the museum and saw a lot of work worth examining whether they are historically significant. On this visit I mentioned to the dr. Oei that Soedjojono’s Memperhatikan Suatu Poster (1956) – exhibited in the inauguration of the Third Wing OHD Museum – in my observation, was of a rare historical work, though not yet finished and signed. This painting is full with historical reading material.

However, the event of this deviation still can be tolerated. The core problem is that painting restoration in Indonesia which is not based on restoration ethics provides a very thin line between painting restoration and painting forgery. Helena Spanjaard and Renate Kant’s writing could break through the circle of the issues. Although we are not be able to avoid the current fake paintings issues, their writings are not “trapped” in this issue. Both Helena and Renata observed that the controversy of OHD Museum were originally based from the fragility of the art infrastructure in Indonesia.

In particular, I should note Helena Spanjaard’s view who saw the fragility of the infrastructure, is not just our “internal” issue (historic restoration art work, standard compliance, museum policy, constellation of values issues). This fragility has the “external” impact as well. Without this infrastructure, Helena worried that Indonesian art would be a “mystery”, especially in the international forum.

My next paper written is a further response towards Helena and Renate’s views related to the art infrastructure issues. I did not stop at, “we need to uphold the art infrastructure!” Instead, I tend to discuss their views with deeper insights on the issues; What is exactly the art infrastructure and art history and what are the basics for both that we need to consider. Why up until now our art history is difficult to be written and how art history position in the current idea development .

Fine art infrastructure, history of the fine arts
Both Helena and Renate see art history and museum as the pillars of art infrastructure. Here the art history and museum is an institution that determines the values of the historic works of art. At first, through the writing of art history who did the selection through the standards for determining whether something is historically significant. Museum is a facility where historical works are stored. Because the museum is open for public, the general public can appreciate the compilation of great works in art history.

I must confess that the faith in such infrastructure is still widely believed until now. Particularly in Europe and America where the infrastructure is already strong. But I must also point out that this belief has been a widely criticized new way of thinking since the 1980s. Associated with the development of world art, critical thinking is also questioned, whether art infrastructure with the model developed in Europe and the United States could be applied outside Europe and the United States.

In that struggle of thought comes the question of whether there is only one world art history, how to integrate the progress notes in various parts of the world to the history of world art, is it true canons of art history that appears on the development of art in Europe and the United States could be applied to the writing of art history in other areas?

Therefore, the problem is not the history of Indonesian art which Renate and Helena complained how it is not specific to  Indonesia. There is also no Singaporean art history, Malaysian art history, art history China or Korea, for example. Although there are many publications that describe something beyond the development of art in Europe, the United States, none of the actual writing could be called “art history”.

Helena Spanjaard mentions in her writings that the education of art historians appeared in European universities in the 19th century. It was originally associated with the art history of empirical studies and confirmed as a science discipline. But this sign of the 19th century is not the beginning of the theory of art history. The conception of the thinking on art history was born in 1550 in the college of fine arts in Florence, Italy by Giorgio Vasari – moments after Leonardo da Vinci died, while Michelangelo was still active.

Art history appears as part of a study on the collection of the nobles and wealthy merchants in Italy in the 16th century. But do not think that these were the first collectors in the world since they only collected the works of the 16th century. Tradition of collecting works of art have emerged among senators, consuls, quaestors and the rich at the time of the Roman Republic since about 50 BC. In the 16th century, the collections that exists till now are controlled by  European (especially Italian) rich merchants who are known as a collector and patron of fine arts.

It is precisely in the collections during the 16th century that gave rise to the notion of art history. After reviewing this collection of Giorgio Vasari build the conclusion that the development of art in the 16th Century (High Renaissance) was the peak of maturity of the development of art since the Roman Period Greek-influenced culture (about the year 1 AD). In the Middle Ages (Gothic Period, circa 10 AD), the development of art was in decline.

It is in that context of art history that Giorgio Vasari makes periodization that is linearly related and shows progress. This is the first canon of art history writing that is still influential today (something set that is historically significant when positioned on a linear progression and can show progress). After Vasari, art history continues to raise a lot of new canons of art history that is not always consistent and agree with one another. From the arena of debates about these canons were born the various models of writing art history in Europe and the United States.

A description of the initial theory shows the discipline of art history related to the museum collections gathered over the past 20 centuries. Renate Kant’s description of technology development related to conservation and restoration of the massive collection of 20th century. It is easy to understand the conservation and restoration technology, which has evolved into a highly sophisticated, necessary to maintain, organize, record, and examine the collection that was gathered over the past 20 centuries. Without the sophisticated technology of conservation and restoration of this collection will face chaos and even collapse. But the technology is not just a technical device needed to study art history.

I do not know exactly what was meant by Renate in her writing with regards to technical art history because it is not described. But in my understanding based on knowledge of art history, I see the technical art history (Using Renate’s term) as knowledge that is integrated into art history. This knowledge can be found on a variety of complicated signs on the works of art which refers to a detailed history, detailed art. For example, knowledge about the importance of gray color in the realist paintings of English Naturalism in how the sky in distinguishes the four seasons, and, loss of gray in realistic paintings to establish an atmosphere of somber Romanticism-both which were developed in the 19th century.

Until the early 20th century, the development of modern art in the collection that were collected during the 20 century was dominated by paintings. There are also sculptures and prints that appear on the development of the High Renaissance in the North, to the 17th century, but far fewer in number. This is why the technical knowledge of art history as almost synonymous with knowledge of the art of painting (also implied in the writings Renate).

That fact makes paintings the primary contributor in the theory of art history. The paintings are believed to be an artifact of history only if it can not be repeated or reproduced, and is an authentic object that could indicate a specific time and space (spatiotemorally objects). Therefore, the authenticity of historic paintings “guarded” and this is the basis for the development of conservation and restoration technology.

Anomalies of fine arts world (read: world art)
Genealogy From the art infrastructure in Europe and the United States above we can see that at first was a collection of works of art. From here emerged the museum, art history, and the art infrastructure. Therefore, the model developed infrastructure in Europe and the United States can not be separated from the collection gathered over the past 20 centuries. This collection is now scattered in museums in Europe, and museums in the United States in much smaller amounts.

Outside of Europe and the United States there is no representation of the collection that was collected over the past 20 centuries. This fact makes art history as a discipline is learned outside of Europe and the United States lost its actuality. Its familiarity is limited by the theoretical understanding based on the books and not from the actual encounter with original works in the museum. In this way, art history is impossible to truly understand. The question was whether the theoretical understanding of art history like this can be used as the basis for the art infrastructure.

But museums are also built outside Europe, the United States. For example, in Japan’s growth had reached 200 in a year. It makes sense when the museum is to collect local works that show the development of local art. In addition there are also efforts to acquire historical works on the development of art in Europe and the United States through auctions conducted by a number of private museums in Japan and Korea.

These symptoms of the local museums that bring the issue back. The important artists-artists whose works entered the local museums do not exist in the history of world art. We may assume Soedjojono, Affandi, Hendra Gunawan are important artists, but we must face the fact that their names are not known at the development of world art. Here we face the awkwardness canons of art history are believed to apply to world art history.

The writing of art history since Giorgio Vasari to Edward Lucie-Smith implements works that are historically significant when positioned on a linear progression and can show progress. In the practice of observing the “influence”, or “opposition” in a linear progression (post hoc, ergo propter hoc) Giorgio Vasari raised the canon in 1550, does not only underlie the history of art. This canon also affect the development of art. Therefore, almost all important artists recorded  in the development of art in Europe and the United States until the development of modern art, 1960, “piggy back riding” its predecessor. This synchronization makes the writing of art history in Europe and the United States became easier.

The tradition of “piggy back riding” it’s hard to find in Europe and the United States, but can be found for example in the development of art in Indonesia. Symptoms of expressionistic painting on the development of Indonesian art can not be seen as “expressionism” against the previous trend and opposed further development. This trend must be seen in the development of contemporary art as a genre that is a trend that has never lost since the early 20th century to the present.

Similarly, a realistic painting from the beginning until now relied on perceptual sensitivity where there is a tendency to see the reality of the material completely. Our realist painters do not know in a linear progression of realistic painting for three centuries (from the High Renaissance in the 16th century until Gustav Courbet Realism in the 19th century) of art history and a variety of intricate details can be found in technical art history. Note: Raden Saleh should be excluded in this case.

It shows why the history of Indonesian art can not be written according to the canons of the discipline of art history, and, why the development of art in Indonesia is difficult to understand art historian in the world forum. Helena Spanjaard knew this issue. In the Netherlands she had to undergo a difficult process to get approval to write a doctoral thesis that examines the development of art in Indonesia based on the discipline of art history. The researchers before Helena wrote a doctoral thesis on Indonesian art based on the anthropological approach.

No agreement on the understanding of art history as shown in the examples above show irregularities world art. Throughout my knowledge there are no publications that examine how long this discrepancy overshadow the notion of “world art” and hung as a matter not completed. This discrepancy began to show signs when modernism claim to museums and art history as a basis for the development of world art in the decade of 1960. We still need two decades before the discrepancy was realized.

When the post-modern thinking criticizing modernism’s claim in the 1980s, then emerges awareness that museums, art history, and infrastructure that is believed to be modernism related only with the development of art in Europe and the United States. In this criticism, the 20th century collection which I have described above is scrutinized.

In his writing titled “Re: Post”, Hal Foster calls it a collection of European royalty collection that reflects their tastes. Therefore, Hal Foster doubted if art history is born from this collection truly reflects the development of society. Resting on this kind of thinking, in “Re: Post” Hal Foster states that museums in Europe and the United States and the art history from the west was not a basis the development of world art (Art After Modernism, Rethinking Representation, 1984).

After the collection of 20th century paintings was criticized thoroughly, the fact of the dominance of painting in this collection was subject to bias. Here, the complex technical art history is seen as a specific knowledge of art that does not necessarily have anything to do with the values of society. “Great works” the celebrated knowledge is only “art-historically” significant and is not culturally significant. These criticisms affect further understanding of art history, and can even be felt in the teaching of  art history. These symptoms can be found in the writings Renate Kant that appears as a complaint, “[…] as we know from Europe and USA since the ’80’s, there has been no lesson in learning the language to discuss a painting’s state and condition by collecting evidence in a comprehensive manner. ”

That criticism also base the symptom of abandoning paintings to the development of contemporary art. Its base is an analysis that sees painters (specifically to the development of European and American art) no longer shows expression. The richness of discourses in painting only makes them change idioms that were founded by art historians and presents them as an expression. In the essay titled, “Presence” Jean François Lyotard said “The art of presence is dying. The art of deferring presence is growing.  If painting were really in search of presence above everything else, it would be on its deathbed.”  (The Language of Art History, 1991).

Art (Infrastructure, museums, history) of Indonesia

The anomaly in the world of art and the changes on the development of world art which I expressed in the above should be taken into account to picture art infrastructure in Indonesia where museums are art writings are involved.  We can no longer remain at the understanding of art infrastructure where art history and museums are believed to be its pillars. We should take into account the change of perception and understandings on art and art making in the development of world art. A few of the things within need to be studied.

Critic to the esotericism which shadow the development of art until the 1970s brings the believe of contextualism that connects the expression of art with the development of society. This tendency is actually hard to find in the development of American and European art. However, it is from this belief that features our artists in contemporary global art in the 90s because their works are political. These are seen as contextual pieces.

Parallel to the appearance of this belief also comes to surface the believe that art making comes from a communication between the artist and its public, because that is the basis of culture. In this belief which is known as the institutional theory of art arises the term “art world” which takes us to the signs of times in the understanding of art infrastructure.

That theory sees the nature of modernist understanding brings about the authority that determines the values of art and of the modern society. This authority which is called modernism as institution has even tried to control the development of global art. The global society on an infrastructure like this is a passive group that must appreciate the fatwas set by the authority (appreciation by means of improving one self to understand the fatwas). In the understanding of the art world, the position of the society has been modified.

Society in the art world can no longer be passive in appreciating values which are determined by the authority. Society must be an active group. Through communication between artist and public, then society can contribute in establishing values which in this case are cultural values. Culture here serves as a new perspective that is a set of practices that bring about the discourses on meanings and values: this occurs because of the similarity in perception, understanding, and institution. It is no longer a set of things which based on old beliefs which are artifacts that present the peaks of culture.

The change of perception on infrastructure brings about museums with new concepts. These museums prioritizes programs more than collections and through these programs they try to become a mediator between the artist and the public in determining the values in society. The change of perspective brings rise to internal oppositions from the authority. In the end of the 80s, a number of museum curators in the US left their jobs at the museums and called themselves independent curators.

Another change which we should thoroughly examine is the symptom of changing the term “world art” with “global art”. In the 1980-90s, the use of “global art” is close to the phrase “global-local” which presents the awareness of recognizing the difference amidst the trend of global uniformity (discourse of difference).

The use of the word “global art” began after globalization happened which occurred after the cold war in 1989. The repositioning of economic powers that occurred with globalization creates wide networks of information which come from everywhere and disperses to everywhere. It is from this transfer of information the term “global art” was founded outside Europe and the US which originally were not taken into account in the formation of the term “world art”. It is here that we see a change in the term “world art” with the term “global art”.

When trying to understand the phenomenon of global art that appeared around 2005, the issue is brought upwards to the level of thought. There is no tendency in this effort to see global art as a redefined world art in the world of thought. The effort to understand the phenomenon of global art which was supported by a number of art historians tries to compile data (reality, phenomena, and issues) surrounding global art as symptoms. In facing these issues of differences, this effort tends to involve thinking from ideas which were ignored in the conception of world art to explain the realities which for a long time have not been understood in Europe and the US.

In the effort to understand the phenomena, art history brings about new thoughts which may become another paradigm in the future. At first the journey around the world by art historian, James Elkins, concluded that art history was actually known throughout the world. However, he found that art history is understood, implemented, and thought as something different. When we return to the issue of art history which we talked about in the above, this symptom shows a trust towards art history as a knowledge discipline, however there is also doubt that this discipline can be implemented without modification.

In facing that reality, James Elkins theoretically aborted the long-standing belief because it hosted many anomalies: there is only one art history to record all the development of art in the world. As an alternative, this is a new thought for art history, he saw the possibility that art history can become a global discipline or global enterprise to find history from a variety of arts (read: local art history). Regarding this, James Elkins wrote, “[….]art history would not be global because it would be several enterprises that happen to share a name—either that  the current diffusion of Western models of art history would be weakening and melting into many local practices.” (Is Art History Global ? 2007).

I am not sure if Helena Spanjaard and Renate Kant put into account the changes which I explained in the above. However, their writings are still relevant for us to discuss. Their point of view is entirely true: it is art that is at issue here – which paintings are collected, infrastructure we talk about, not to forget the controversy of the OHD Museum – is part of the art world. Art that appeared at the beginning of the 20th century “through Soedjojono” cannot be relieved from the tradition of art-making.

The issue that we must be aware of as part of the art world is that our art has been forgotten in the past. It was not taken into account and is not understood which makes it not relevant towards the development of world art, or part of a mysterious art world. Now, the issue has relatively subsided. The thought of world art has changed even though it is not immediately reflected in reality. Observing from this new way of thought, the development of our art is OK.

Regarding infrastructure, it is by chance that our art infrastructure has already prioritizes program. Because of that we cannot ignore the galleries, which has become the main host for exhibitions. Curatorial forewords which are placed in exhibition catalogues in which many of them are like books, take over the role of the mediator of artist and public. The impact of this mechanism in infrastructure can already be noted down. In my knowledge there already is a group of collectors that compile knowledge in art which are then discussed in forums as well as social media. The symptoms of a shift of topics of discussion among these collectors (where they usually talk about issues in the art market) are the early indicators of a discourse in values. Collectors in this group should be seen as the art world public.

Even so, the National Gallery in Jakarta puts more emphasis in the exhibition programs, whereas its collection is still limited to be valued since there is no fund allocation to buy art pieces, and there has not been any awareness by the government on the necessity of having a state collection in the National Gallery. Last year, Mon Décor Gallery, Jakarta expanded itself by officiating the Art: 1 New Museum (a museum without a collection). The ideas is that the museum will only host exhibition programs by artists which are considered to be part of the development of Indonesian art. If I am not mistaken, in a conversation between dr. Oei and I two years ago, the establishment of the Third Wing of the OHD Museum at the center of Magelang is to feature exhibition programs of the museum which has never existed before.

Now, there is no doubt to write the art history of Indonesia. As a local practice of art history (following Elkins’ terms), there is an opportunity to write our own specific canons for art history. Since 10 years ago, research on the history of arts that is based on a pure approach on the art history discipline has subsided. Now there is a tendency to mix the discipline of art history with others, thus creating an interdisciplinary approach. Through this approach, there is an opportunity for us to link Indonesian art history writing with other schools of thought. Despite the limits, the efforts to discover these canonic norms in writing art history has begun.

To conclude my piece, I would like to emphasize that my critical essay is no different from the writings of Helena Spanjaard and Renate Kant. At the beginning of my writing, I truly appreciate their points of view that arise from goodwill and love for Indonesian art. There is a similarity between these different perspectives, it is the desire to emphasize the need to further explore the meaning and values of works by Indonesian artists so that Indonesian art can be understood and appreciated in the world. In the discussion forums in Indonesia that is still dominated by market rumors, raises the awareness that is in the meaning and values of painting that actually based the nominal value of the piece. Not the other way around.


Indonesian version