Indonesia: New museum in Jakarta paints picture of hope for regional art

MACAN’s full name is the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara. Source: Museum MACAN

“IT’S NOT just a conversation for elite communities, it’s a conversation for everyone,” said Aaron Seeto, the Director of Museum MACAN in Jakarta.

Set to officially open to the public in November, MACAN is the brainchild of Indonesian mogul and passionate art collector Haryanto Adikoesoemo. Having made his money in oil and chemicals, the billionaire businessman has accrued 800 works from around the world over the past 25 years.

MACAN is an attempt to share this global collection, of which around half is Indonesian and the other half is sourced from the greater Asian region and beyond. Haryanto owns work by Ai Wei Wei, Yayoi Kusama, Jeff Koons, Jean Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol, to name a few.

“When you look at Haryanto’s collection there is a broad interest – it’s not solely focused on a particular geography,” Seeto told Asian Correspondent.

The tiger museum

MACAN’s full name is the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara –Nusantara meaning archipelago in Malay and a term often used to refer to Indonesia.

Nevertheless, for many in the region the word Nusantara also conjures a broader string of islands stretching from the Malay Archipelago of Malaysia and Singapore, to southern Thailand, the Philippines and perhaps even Taiwan.

“It’s not just about Indonesia, it’s much broader than national geography,” said Seeto. Macan in Indonesian means tiger – fitting, given the world’s largest Muslim nations was once deemed a “tiger cub” emerging economy along with its neighbors Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

‘Art can actually help us to learn about other people’ – Seeto. Source: Museum MACAN

The 4,000 sq m space was designed by London-based firm Met Studio Design and sits in a well-healed neighborhood of Jakarta not far from Slipi – now known colloquially as “Slipicon Valley” – home to Indonesia’s biggest names in digital business like Tokopedia, Traveloka and countless fintech start-up incubators.

“Here in Jakarta it’s the financial capital where rent’s much higher, not so many artists live here. But there are great collectors here,” said Seeto, in contrast to grassroots creative scenes in Yogyakarta and Bandung.

Seeto sees the mission of MACAN as being fundamentally about collaboration with institutions both within Indonesia, regionally and across the world. “It’s about connections, it’s about sharing of research, sharing information and creating something that’s much bigger than simply being ourselves,” he told Asian Correspondent.

It certainly is already building hype far beyond Indonesia. The museum has made it into The Guardian’s top 10 new museum openings in 2017, along with the Institute of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

“We live in a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious society. Art can actually help us to learn about other people,” said Seeto, who grew up in Western Sydney, Australia, one of the most diverse regions of one of the most multicultural cities on earth.

The Director himself has an impressive, transnational CV: formerly the Curatorial Manager of Asian and Pacific Art at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, prior to which he spent eight years as the Director the leading 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney.

Focus on education

“Education is one of the core tenets of the museum vision,” said Seeto. “We know at present there is very little general art appreciation [in Indonesia] which is why we are focused on art education.”

In 2015, Southeast Asia’s premier art festival Art Jog in Yogyakarta tripled its prices – some said because in crowded gallery spaces the previous year, many punters were stepping on or touching the artworks, often just for a winning Instagram shot.

Seeto wants to embrace the challenge of diverse audiences in Indonesia: “We need to be able to communicate with people in a way which gives them the confidence to firstly be in the museum, but also act in a way which isn’t going to endanger the work.”

Art education helps to develop creative thinkers who can innovate and drive change. Source: Museum MACAN

The goal for MACAN is to make it a public space – a genuine piece of public infrastructure.

Achieving this will require concerted engagement and education programmes, said Seeto: “Because I used to work for a state museum and used to run a non-profit community space, I’m definitely interested in different ideas of publics.”

SEE ALSO: Singapore’s Yayoi Kusama art show is boosting arrivals

MACAN has already begun working in local public schools that service communities from different socioeconomic backgrounds. In Jakarta – a city with one of the highest concentrations of billionaires in the region – the super-rich and poor often live side by side.

The MACAN in Schools program engages teachers and principals in terms of “what they need or want from a museum”, as well as what skills or professional development are lacking from their existing situation; meanwhile its Educators Forum provides “behind-the scenes access” for educators, with the museum’s education team tailoring programmes and introducing them to artists.

“Even if they become accountants or miners or whatever, art education is really important,” he added, noting that for a “developing” country like Indonesia, art education helps to develop creative thinkers who can innovate and drive change.

Indonesia on the world stage

“There are very few spaces in Southeast Asia that have the facility standards that we have,” Seeto told Asian Correspondent. “Before Museum MACAN I’m not sure whether anyone in Indonesia would have been able to take on significant loans from another museum.”

“We have the environmental controls which are required to do that – temperature, humidity, lighting – which will allow us to work with museums all around the world,” he said.

While other prominent, wealthy Indonesians such as Oei Hong Djien and Budi Tek have striven to share their art collections with the broader community, Haryanto’s MACAN represents the most ambitious and first world-class art facility in Indonesia to date.

SEE ALSO: Indonesia’s Asean Literary Festival attracts thousands, tackles art and social issues

The museum has ambitious plans to regularly collaborate with a number of national and international institutions to both send an traveling exhibitions, to be revealed soon upon its opening in November.

“We also have a conservation lab onsite, and that’s really important because it illustrates that it’s not just about the collection now, but thinking about the next 100 years and the 100 years after that in terms of how people might use the collection to better understand their own histories,” said Seeto.

“It’s a long-term vision.”

This article first appeared on our sister site, Asian Correspondent