In a museum in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, rests a bright-yellow 1976 Mitsubishi Galant GTO with a colorful tail fin, detailed in emerald green and scarlet. It’s not parked outside of 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 significant Indonesian artist of the 20th century roared around the city until he died in 1990; and you’re within the Affandi Museum, a jumble of buildings along the Gajah Wong River that Affandi crafted himself. His paintings-wild landscapes and provocative, almost psychedelic portraits-still fetch tens of 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.
Occur the eastern 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 also the 17,000-island archipelago’s most-visited destination after Bali, an undeniable fact which includes much related to its proximity to the extraordinary Buddhist temples of Borobudur and the equally impressive Hindu ones of Prambanan, both lower than an hour’s drive away.
Wayang kulit, Indonesia’s intricate shadow puppetry, was born here over a thousand years ago. So was batik, a few hundred later; paket tour jogja designs-complex geometrical and graphic patterns, usually painted in rich browns and deep blues on white-are considered some of the most beautiful by textile collectors. (Some were only at Javanese royalty; commoners are still forbidden to use them in some tombs and palaces.) In Kota Gede, Yogyakarta’s old town, built a lot more than 400 in the past by the immensely wealthy Mataram sultanate, the streets are so narrow that they need to be navigated on foot or by tuk-tuk; often you barely have to 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 international enthusiasm for that 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 upcoming Big Thing. Because of this if you’re interested in the contemporary art of Asia, Indonesia is definitely a interesting place right now. The reinstitution (following a seven-year absence) in the Indonesia Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale-underwritten by billionaire Indonesian-Chinese businessman Budi Tek, whose collection includes functions by Anselm Kiefer and Anish Kapoor in addition to 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, that has garnered international attention featuring its commissioned thematic exhibitions. Last year, delegates from Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Gagosian, and Tate Modern were spotted scouting in the Taman Budaya Art Center searching for the next Nyoman Masriadi-a Yogyakarta-based Balinese whose The Person 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 not too long ago for over $1 million.
Masriadi is currently represented by Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York, which showcased his work prominently at Art Basel Miami Beach in December; Nugroho has had 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 possess installed an agent in Jakarta full-time a year ago. 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 for the U.K. in 2012, less than a year following the exhibition “Indonesian Eye: Fantasies & Realities” on the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea. “It’s definitely a strong market,” Brown says, not just in Asia but globally. “I’d attribute it to some extent to the reality that China now looks overpriced, as well as the Indonesian collectors creating a big mark on the international scene.”
While many of these artists have lived and worked in Yogya (or still do), the area is less about watching the current market and a lot more about quiet creativity. Which has been an essential part of the life for years and years: The city is home to both Indonesia’s oldest and most prestigious fine arts academy as well as the erstwhile Kingdom of Java’s richest sultans (meaning by far the most talented artisans and performers historically based themselves here).
As you explore, you’ll discover art in enclaves of surprising quiet and sweetness amid the hornet’s nest of traffic. (Using a population of just under 400,000, Yogyakarta is quite chaotic-and thus best navigated xrfvih an exclusive 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 plus an internal garden. A 20-minute ride to the side of town brings you to the Sarang Building, which features emerging local talent and is also worth a visit for 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 from 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 now.”