Modern Art in Indonesia
Bandung, the capital of West Java Province, is one of the modern art centers in Indonesia. The
other centers are Jakarta, the capital; Yogyakarta, a big city in Central Java; Surabaya, in
East Java; and some centers in Bali: Denpasar, the capital of Bali, and Ubud. There are also
some smaller centers like Surakarta and Malang in Java, and some capital cities outside Java
like Padang (West Sumatra), Medan (North Sumatra) and Ujung Pandang (South Sulawesi).
Modern art has been rapidly developing in Indonesia since the Indonesian Independence in 1945.
This art does not start from - and therefore is not the continuation of - the traditional art of
any of the existing ethnic groups, of which there are more than 300 in the archipelago. Modern
Art is a part of the super culture of the Indonesian metropolitan and is closely related to the
contact between the Indonesian and Western Cultures. Its birth was part of the nationalism
The cultural contact with the West can be traced as far back as the 17th century. However, a
widespread and close contact occurred only in the 19th century, under the colonial government of
the Dutch East Indies, which was established in the beginning of that century. It was in this
century that some Indonesians began to study painting. One of them was a very famous painter in
the Dutch East Indies, Raden Saleh (1814-1880), who roamed over the Netherlands, Germany,
Austria and France.
Towards the beginning of World War II, there were some Indonesian youths who were interested in
the Western modern painting and yet they were driven by the spirit of nationalism. They adopted
Western painting to express the environment and their own subjectivity. The identification with
the national struggle, the absence of the supporting institution to channel the works of the
painters, as well as to channel their compensation (apart from painters and their associations,
there was no modern art institute.
The period up to the 1960s, which was the beginning of the creation and development of the
painters and the painters associations, was the first stage of the development of modern art
in Indonesia. The second stage showed the important role of the higher education institutes for
art. These institutes have developed since the 1950s and in the 1970s they were the main
education institutes for painters and other artists.
Through their artists who were once their students, these higher education institutes
introduced various kinds of innovations. The concept of art was extended including various
fields of designs. The artists awareness of the medium, forms or the
organization of shapes were encouraged more intensely and these encouraged the exploring and
experimental attitudes. Meanwhile, the information about the world's modern art, particularly
Western Art; was widely and rapidly spread.
The 1960's and 70s were marked by the development of various abstractions and abstract art.
Non-figurative abstract lyricism was consistently used by painters like Ahmad Sadali, while
abstract painting with strict geometrism and simplicity was the trademark of Handrio. Mochtar
Apin was a senior painter and graphic artist who never ceased to experiment, to explore. This
period was marked by the great number of explorations in various new media, like the experiment
with collage, assemblage, mixed media.
The works of the Neo Art Movement-group in the second half of the 1970s and in the 1980s shows
environmental art and installations, influenced by the elements of popular art, from the
commercial world and mass media, as well as the involvement of art in the social and
The issues about the environment, frequently launched by the intellectuals in the period of
economic development starting in the 1970s, echoed among the artists, and they were widened in
the social, art and cultural circles. While in the past we found interest in old or traditional
art, which made some painters produce works in a decorative style, we now see that the
decorative style inspired by traditional art becomes a big trend in the Indonesian painting.
The Indonesian economic development following the important change in the 1970s has caused a
change in the life of the middle and upper class society, as has the change in various aspects
of a big city, particularly Jakarta.
An obvious impact in art is the recruitment of educated staff in interior design, due to the
development of luxurious dwelling places, offices, hotels, banks and others. The educated staff
in graphic design were recruited because of the development in industry, trade and in
publishing and printing. Since the second half of the 1980s we have also witnessed the boom of
collectors and galleries, and the existence of painting auctions and painting traders. Some
museums were established, although they are not developed in concepts, facilities and
organization. Modern art business flourishes particularly in Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta,
Surabaya and Bali, particularly in Ubud, the center of big galleries and modern painters on
Modern art in Indonesia is entering the third stage of its development, i.e. the stage of the
establishment of institutions for distribution and collection. In terms of works of the
painters, as seen in exhibitions, observers tend to judge that there is no significant change,
there are even indications of impoverishment.
We see a limited use of materials and techniques, topics and themes as well as forms and
shapes. Compared to the situation in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, before the
boom, there has been a decrease. This decrease includes the constriction of concept, the
operational concept, which is reflected in practice. It seems that the diversity of materials,
techniques, topics and themes and the organization of shapes offered by the development of the
world's art is not known in Indonesia. What worries some observers in Indonesia is the fact
that impoverishment and the constriction of concepts occur at the time when the painting
business, which can support the painters, grows. Moreover, the business itself shows its
weaknesses. A lot of people refer to the confusion of prices and this relates to the
confusion of judgment of the painters and their works.
More than ever, among people dealing with painting, there is a need to look at the outside
world and study the art of painting in the neighboring countries and the international world.
In terms of activities concerning art, the collaboration among governments is getting limited.
The art circles feel the need of developing the relationship and collaboration with private
groups, agencies or institutions related to art. At the same time the artists now feel the need
for an association of national scope.
It is true this third stage involves only painting. However, there are indications that in
Indonesia printmaking will be part of the development and is likely to be followed by ceramics,
sculpture and fiber art.
Abbreviated from the "Exhibition Catalog of the 5th Asia International Exhibition" - By Sanento