Indonesian Art Hits the Circuit
at the Singapore, Jakarta and Hong Kong auctions

by Michelle Chin

Srihadi Soedarsono

Singapore attracted major Indonesian art lovers, collectors, dealers and artists during the first week of April 2002. It was a fabulous opportunity to catch up with old friends, exchange the latest gossip, attend exhibition openings and the previews of three major auction houses which feature Indonesian artwork.

Art by Indonesian artists and Indo-European works dominate the art auctions held twice a year in Singapore, Jakarta and Hong Kong. These are the Sotheby's Southeast Asian Paintings auction held in Singapore, the Larasati-Glerum Pictures of Indonesia and Treasures of Indonesian Arts auctions, which take place in Jakarta, and the Christie's Southeast Asian and 20th Century Indian Pictures auction held in Hong Kong. Although figures vary between the various auction houses, it is clear that Indonesian collectors are also the majority of buyers at these three auctions.

The art auctions provide an excellent opportunity to view an immense range and variety of art which otherwise could only be seen at museums, galleries or private collections all over the world. At the preview exhibitions held one or two days before each particular auction, one can view the paintings up close. Apart from seeing a huge number of modern and new contemporary works, one often has the chance to see a rare work by Walter Spies, le Mayeur, Raden Saleh, Sudjojono, Hendra Gunawan or Trubus to name just a few of the great artists whose works are often included.

Art auctions are open to the public and free . One can wander in and out of the auction as one chooses - it is after all a market place, a trading event where the aim is buying and selling - in this case, it is art that is being bought and fought over by the various collectors, who either attend the auction in person, send an absentee bid prior to the actual auction, or bid via telephone against the bidders in the room. It can be both exciting and exhilarating to witness the proceedings, especially when a work achieves a selling price of several hundred thousand dollars, and in some cases over a million dollars.

A total of 213 pieces of art valued at over SIN$5 million were offered for sale at Sotheby’s Auction of Southeast Asian Paintings in Singapore on Sunday, 7 April. The auction offered a wide range of quality, rare and selected works by artists from Europe, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. For art lovers interested in Indonesian paintings, there were also two solo exhibitions to attend: Balinese artist Made Djirna had a show at Gajah Gallery, while Dede Eri Supria held a sold-out exhibition at Artfolio Gallery.

While the content varies between the three major auction houses, they all feature Indo-European paintings which are works by foreign artists who lived and worked in Indonesia from the 19th century onwards as well as artists who are still working in Indonesia. Paintings by Walter Spies, Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres, Rudolf Bonnet, Willem Gerard Hofker and Isaac Israels are highly sought after and generally achieve high hammer prices at Sotheby's, Christie's and Larasati-Glerum art auctions.

Heimkehrende Javaner (‘Javanese Returning Home’) by Indo-European artist Walter Spies (1895-1942) was one of the works included in the April Sotheby's auction which generated much interest on the part of collectors from all over the world, and it finally sold for a hammer price of SIN$850,000.

Depicting five figures in a Javanese landscape, Spies seems to have been inspired by the need to record the physical beauty of the Javanese people. The positioning and dominance of the figures in this painting emphasize the human narrative and their symbolic associations with the artist's own feelings. In Java, Spies found the perfect fusion between the primeval spirit of nature he sought to express in his works and the poetry and nobility of a high culture in tune with the natural surroundings.



The auctions feature works by modern and contemporary Indonesian masters such as Affandi, Hendra Gunawan, S. Sudjojono, Srihadi Soedarsono, Sudjana Kerton, Trubus, Widayat, Fajar Sidik and Djoko Pekik.

Djoko Pekik


Works by Indonesian artist Hendra Gunawan have always generated interest among collectors in recent years. His Fish Seller sold for SIN$360,000 at Sotheby's Singapore auction. -- a record price for the artist's work. Featuring the articulate use of vivid colors and patterns, the painting depicts a fishmonger in a straw hat surrounded by a woman and children in a bare, arid landscape of a beach. The stylized, cartoon-like depiction of landscape and of human figures, and the decorative use of color where even the areas of the subjects’ skin becomes fields of pattern, are perhaps influenced by Javanese folk art and design. The stylization also relates to a deeper level of traditional artistic expression in Indonesia, where the donning of masks and the adoption of archetypal personae transport the viewer into a realm of a more transcendent reality.

A recent addition in the Sotheby's auction is the Indonesian New Contemporary group, which includes younger artists such as Dede Eri Supria, Sudarisman, Entang Wiharso, Erica Hestu Wahyuni and Made Djirna. Sotheby's are proud of the success achieved by the works in this category and that they are doing something for the younger artists.

Sotheby's Southeast Asian paintings specialist, Mr. Mok Kim Chuan says, "We see pretty good growth in that category of younger artists. At the moment 95% of this category are selling, which is a good sign for young Indonesian contemporary artists. We hope that we can incorporate more of the new contemporary artists from various countries in the region, and then we will simply call this category New Contemporary. At the moment the figures show from various countries in the Southeast Asian region that the majority of Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean collectors are buying new contemporary."

The greatest number of works by Indonesian artists is to be found in the Larasati-Glerum Pictures of Indonesia Fine Art Auction held twice a year in Jakarta, usually in April and October. Larasati-Glerum will also feature a new auction called Harmonie: Treasures of Indonesian Arts showcasing jewelery, textiles, masks, antiques, wood carvings and accessories, as well as paintings and prints with an estimated value of Rp 15 million per lot. In April, Larasati-Glerum offer 104 lots in their Harmonie auction, while 143 lots with an estimated selling price of over Rp 15 million, including Indo-European, modern Indonesian and new contemporary Indonesian paintings and sculptures are on offer at the Larasati-Glerum Pictures of Indonesia auction.

Christie's Southeast Asian and 20th Century Indian Pictures auction held in Hong Kong on 28 April featured 108 lots. Special Indonesian highlights of this auction included an impressive painting by Raden Saleh (1807-1880), who is considered to be a pioneer of modern Indonesian painting, as well as two oils on canvas by Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres. The catalogue also featured an impressive selection of works by Affandi, Hendra Gunawan, Srihadi Soedarsono, Rusli, Widayat, Djoko Pekik and But Mochtar.

Contact details:
Sotheby's, 1 Cuscaden Road, #01-01 The Regent Singapore, Singapore 249715. Tel: +65 6732 8239. Website: Contact person: Kaye Shu, email:
Larasati-Glerum, Jalan Tirtayasa IV/3, Jakarta, 12160, Indonesia. Tel: +62-21 7210507, website: Contact person: Eko Adriani, email:
Christie's, 2203-8 Alexandra House, 16-20 Chater Road Central, Hong Kong. Tel: +852-2521 5396. Website: Contact person, Keong Ruoh-Ling, Southeast Asian Pictures Specialist, email:

Notes on Contributor:
Michelle Chin is a writer and arts management consultant based in Jogjakarta. She has been living in Indonesia for most of the past twenty years.

[published in Island Life, No. 11, 2002]