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Indonesia Gets Its First Contemporary Art Museum

The inaugural exhibition of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara features 90 works by 70 artists

(Courtesy of Museum MACAN)
smithsonian.com

Though Indonesia is home to a vibrant and ever-growing arts scene, it is somewhat lacking in museum infrastructure. Stepping into that void is the new Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (or Museum MACAN), which, as Sarah Cascone of artnet News reports, is the first-ever Indonesian museum devoted to modern art.

MACAN opened its doors to the public in early November, to coincide with two major arts events in Indonesia: the Jakarta Biennale and the Biennale Jogja

Spanning 4,000 square meters, the private museum is located on the horseshoe-shaped fifth floor of a tower in west Jakarta.​ According to Lisa Movius of the Art Newspaper, MACAN’s inaugural show, Art Turns. World Turns, which boasts 90 works by 70 artists, was sourced from the holdings of its founder, Haryanto Adikoesoemo, head of the energy conglomerate AKR Corporindo.

Over the past 25 years, Adikoesoemo has accrued some 800 artworks from around the world, which are reportedly now part of the MACAN collection. On display at MACAN are pieces by major influencers, among them Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Jeff Koons, and Yayoi Kusama. But the museum also showcases the less internationally known works of seminal Indonesian artists, like the 19th-century painter Raden Saleh and the contemporary artist F.X. Harsono.

Art Turns. World Turns explores how Indonesian art was shaped by global art movements, and how it diverges from them. The country’s declaration of independence from the Dutch government's colonial arm in 1945 provoked a particularly significant turning point in Indonesia’s art history, with artists breaking from European styles and, ultimately, turning toward “messy, playful, collaborative work,” in the words of Melissa Gronlund of the National.

The museum has not shied away from presenting controversial pieces. Today, Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim-majority country, and among the works on display in the museum are pieces like "Lingga-Yoni" (1994) by the noted Indonesian artist Arahmaiani Feisal. This is the first time "Lingga-Yoni," which depicts the Hindu symbols for male and female genitalia against a backdrop of Arabic script, has been on display in Indonesia since the 1990s, when hardline fundamentalist Islamist groups sent Feisal death threats, forcing her to flee Indonesia for Perth, Australia.

MACAN officials says they deliberately sought out Feisal's work to display in the museum. "We hunted it down," Aaron Seeto, director of Museum MACAN, tells Jewel Topsfield of the Sydney Morning Herald. "It's really important to the history of contemporary Indonesian art."

Feisal, who Topsfield also interviewed, says that she intended for the work to “explain the syncretism of culture in Java, where I come from." ​

For his part, Seeto says that he hopes the new museum will become an integral part of the city’s cultural fabric, providing a much-needed space where the public can engage with art. "Even though we are privately funded,” he says, “we are actually a museum for Indonesia.”

Editor's note, December 6, 2017: The story has been updated to reflect that the entire 
Museum MACAN collection includes approximately 800 works.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer is based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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