Museum Macan: Indonesia's first international museum of contemporary art set to open

Its doors will open on November 4 with a strong blend of local art and works by major names. The movers behind the project tell us about the canvas they have set up

The museum is the first international museum of modern art in Indonesia. Courtesy Met Studio Design
Powered by automated translation

In Sindudarsono Sudjojono's Ngaso (1964), a group of Indonesian soldiers rests in the shade of a damaged building. A few keep watch; others lie asleep, their rifles leaning against a wall. In the distance, smoke billows above the fields with careful historical accuracy – the artist had captured a moment from the months after Indonesia declared independence from The Netherlands and struggled to hold on to its newfound sovereignty.

The last hundred years of Indonesian art has made visible the country’s transition from a Dutch colony to an independent nation of 200 million people.

The art produced on the archipelago has followed suit, moving from works made in European idioms, such as that of the Indonesian painter Raden Saleh, towards social realism by the likes of Sudjojono, and ultimately towards the messy, playful, collaborative work that followed the Reformasi protest movements against General Suharto that began 30 years ago.

Since that time, Indonesia has become well-known for the artist collectives in Jakarta and the east Javanese city of Yogyakarta. Responding to a relative lack of art infrastructure, and upending traditional divisions of labour, these organisations function as sites of production and exhibition, critique and pedagogy.

Shows are accomplished on small budgets and events are held in the mosquito-buzzed open air, and have earned the Indonesian art scene and its biennials a place on the art world curatorial circuit.

But if Jakarta has achieved a profile abroad, within Jakarta there have been few regular opportunities to view international work.

This is set to change with the opening of the ambitious Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara – or Museum Macan, the word for “tiger” in Bahasa Indonesian – on November 4.

The first international museum of modern and contemporary art in Indonesia, it is the project of the property developer Haryanto Adikoesoemo, who has been collecting for a quarter of a century and owns a portfolio of more than 800 works.

“Haryanto is unique in Indonesia, as his collection has a focus on both national and international work,” says Aaron Seeto, the director of the museum, who moved to Jakarta a year ago to take up the position. “This is the first time many of his works will be seen by the Indonesian public.”

Museum Macan is one of a number of boutique museums that have been opened across Asia by very rich collectors, and offers a sort of imprimatur to Jakarta: a white cube display, 2,000-square-metres in size and designed by the architecture firm Met Studio London.

Its high production values fit the work inside it, which includes such major names as Jeff Koons, Robert Rauschenberg, Gerhard Richter, Yayoi Kusuma and Park Seo-Bo.

Japanese artist and writer Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Infinity Mirrored Room – Brilliance of the Souls’ from 2014 will be featured. Courtesy Museum Macan

“We are the first fully privately funded museum in Indonesia that’s open to the public,” says Haryanto’s daughter, Fenessa Adikoesoemo, who runs the foundation that oversees the museum.

“We want to bring the infrastructure here up to global standards. We have built a facility that can support conservation, is fully climate-controlled, and has spaces for education. We hope to show how to properly maintain artworks.”

“Jakarta has public museums,” says Seeto, “But this will be a major addition to the art infrastructure. Our facilities are international standard, so we will be able to take in loans from other museums.”

If Haryanto Adikoesoemo’s collection is unique in Indonesia for its international breadth, it also stretches back into Indonesian art history.

"My father began his collection with Indonesian work," says Adikoesoemo. His holdings span from the 19th century to the contemporary period, with important pieces such as the only self-portrait of the early painter Saleh.

This depth of focus means that the Museum Macan can tell the story of modern Indonesian art, as well as its ultimate intersection with global art currents.

The museum's first exhibition, Art Turns. World Turns. Exploring the Collection of Museum Macan, takes such a retrospective focus and is put together by the Indonesian curator Agung Hujatnika alongside the renowned and peripatetic curator Charles Esche, who has been connected to the region for many years.

Hujatnika and Esche's exhibition shows how Indonesian art has always navigated a path between national identity and international influence, exposure, and scope. Even in the earliest period of Indonesian art, Esche tells me while installing another exhibition in Brussels, one can see the influence of other countries' perceptions.

“The first section, which we call Land, Home, People,” he says, “looks at the way exoticism was constructed, especially around Bali, and then copied by Indonesians themselves”.

In reaction, in the 1940s a number of artists began painting scenes of real-life Indonesia.

Sudjojono's Ngaso is exemplary of this period, with its attentive framing of the soldiers and their visible exhaustion, their workaday, ordinary clothes, and the lush Indonesian landscape.

Here was a focus on Indonesia as it was really lived: men working in the fields, a woman sewing, people drinking and eating. The work of this period also served a political purpose, it is art “in the midst of a struggle for nationhood”, says Esche.

Finally, around 1998 to 2000, after the Suharto regime is unseated, Esche says, “Indonesia enters the global art market”.

Globalisation, Esche cautions, means greater exchange but also had ill effects. Artists are forced to compete in a global marketplace, and many have simply become, as he puts it, “brand names”.

Museum Macan, like other private museums that feature local artists alongside a smattering of internationally famous names, is itself part of this story – from a community-based art scene to one championing global standards, with work drawn from an art market that repeatedly rewards certain top players.

Robert Rauschenberg’s Rush 20 is part of the collection in Jakarta. Courtesy Museum Macan

At the same time, delving into modern Indonesian art history, particularly in this focus on its always globalised character, debunks the assumption that globalisation is a radically
new concept.

The Museum Macan show provides real examples of how art has been influenced by different cultures in the past – a project notably similar to that of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opens on November 11.

“We can see contemporary art being produced now as part of an ongoing wave of national and international interactions that have gone on over a number of generations,” Seeto says.

“Through the collection, because of its geographical range, we can begin to draw out comparisons between what was going on here alongside the interests and activities of artists around the world. The post-war experience, as it manifests in America, or Europe, Japan and Korea, is particularly fascinating within the museum’s collection.”

There, he notes, the “experiences of industrialisation” ran “alongside anti-colonial sentiment, and the desire for free expression”.

While Esche and Hujatnika’s exhibition shows how global crossroads have long been a part of Indonesian artistic identity, it also shows how the legacies of different periods overlap and intersect.

For Esche, the lessons of colonialism are yet to be learnt – and connect him, as the director of the Van Abbemuseum in The Netherlands, to Indonesia. “The colonial relationship of Indonesia to The Netherlands is still ignored and rejected in the Dutch press,” he says.

“It’s presented as simply an economic relationship. As a white, western heterosexual male, the experience of working in Jakarta has been extremely educational.”

Esche's experience in Indonesia dates to 2002, when he co-curated the Gwangju Biennial in South Korea.

“For Gwangju, I looked especially at artistic groups that were then driving the art experience in South-East Asia and, to some extent, North-East Asia,” he says.

“I invited two or three of these to exhibit [including ruangrupa, the best known of these Indonesian collectives] and through them I formed enduring friendships in the country.”

Esche returned to the region over the years, teaching and commissioning writing on the art scene there, and curated the 2015 Jakarta Biennial. The 2017 Jakarta Biennial, with the artistic director Melati Suryodarmo, coincides with Museum Macan’s opening.

The collectives that first captured his attention remain an important part of Indonesia's attraction. "I'm tired of western individualism," he says. "There's a difference balance between the collective and individual in Indonesia – the individual at the service of the collective – that I find inspiring."

This focus on the public is apparent in a second part of the show at Museum Macan that pursues a field of work called exhibition histories, which Esche has been instrumental in developing, primarily in his work at the Van Abbemuseum and at the London publishing organisation Afterall, which he co-founded. Exhibition histories aims to do away with art history’s emphasis on the singular artist, and instead looks at art chronology through its key exhibitions.

The exhibition, for Esche, is the crucial moment at which art meets its public.

At Museum Macan, Esche and Hujatnika put together a mini-exhibition history of Indonesian art alongside the show of the works from Adikoesoemo’s collection. “We researched archives that had been in sitting rooms and brought them from this private sphere to a public one,” Esche says.

For Adikoesoemo, it is exactly this broadening of art, audience, and possibilities that is integral to the mission of Museum Macan. “We want to use our platform to help the art scene grow for – and with – everyone in Jakarta.”

Indonesian artist Entang Wiharso takes his 'Melt' triptych home. Courtesy Museum Macan

This will include a young audience. The museum's dedicated family area, the Children's Art Space, will be inaugurated with a commission by the Indonesian artist Entang Wiharso called Floating Garden that invites children to re-imagine what an artwork might be, perhaps a move out of the museum space altogether, and back into nature.

Museum Macan opens on November 4. For more go to


Read more: