Remapping the Fair: Art Jakarta 2023
By Alex Yiu
After the Indonesian government hosted the 43rd ASEAN summit at Art Jakarta's proposed venue in September, the annual arts event was forced to reschedule its dates and change locations. Nevertheless, the awaited fair finally kicked off from November 17–19 at the 10,000-square-meter JIEXPO in the capital’s Kemayoran district. Art Jakarta invited galleries, artists, and curators from across Southeast Asia, ensuring that this year's event could compete with Singapore’s Art SG and reposition Indonesia as a significant regional arts hub. Under the artistic direction of prominent independent curator Enin Supriyanto, Art Jakarta 2023 honed in on progressive and experimental works, showcasing not only the current status of contemporary Indonesian art, but also works from further afield.
With European and American galleries notably absent from Art Jakarta, Asian blue-chip galleries, including Ota Fine Arts (Tokyo, Singapore, Shanghai), Arario Gallery (Seoul and Cheonan, Beijing, Shanghai, China and New York), and the Jakarta-based ROH Projects, vied for top billing. As they had done at its Shanghai booth at the West Bund Design & Art Fair, Ota placed another Yayoi Kusama’s white-and-blue-tiled pumpkin STARRY PUMPKIN (2022), right by the entrance. Not to be outdone, an oil painting by Hong Kong artist Chris Huen Sin-Kan of his dog frolicking in the undergrowth also caught visitors’ attention as they arrived (coincidentally, one of Huen’s paintings almost sold to an Indonesian collector at the Phillips Hong Kong auction in October).
Meanwhile, ROH Projects spear-headed a group exhibition that showcased paintings and installations from Indonesian as well as international artists. One cage-like installation, Bagus Pandega’s Foliage Voltage (2023), was comprised of sensors attached to leaves that were connected to circuit boards, allowing tiny bulbs to emit light according to the plant’s activity. Elsewhere, Syaiful Aulia Garibaldi’s landscape painting, Irmo Ehoor #1 (2023), captured the beauty of the Japanese landscape using the method of ink on paper taken from his residency in Japan. In collaboration with Arario Gallery, ROH also presented Eko Nugroho’s Under the Tree (2023), a mixed-media installation of a human-like figure holding a cardboard sign bearing the slogan “YOUR VOICE IS MINE,” a simple but effective comment on labor issues in Indonesia. Another notable work by an Indonesian artist was Syagini Ratna Wulan’s Memory Mirror Palace (2023), which was based on her 2019 Venice Biennale installation LOST VERSES (2019). The new iteration consisted of 178 transparent cabinets holding various memorabilia, with each item having a connection to, and making a statement on, various memories and experiences, while inviting visitors to reflect on their own.
Beyond the local scene, a host of other Southeast Asian galleries brought a variety of works that represented homegrown contemporary art practices, especially within the political realm. Kuala Lumpur-based gallery A+ Works of Art showed Malaysian artist Chong Kim Chiew’s New-Write Map Series: South China Sea Map (2023), an acrylic on canvas work that reconfigures place names in the South China Sea as a way to ridicule and reinterpret the inherent power structures of cartography and map-making. Not to be outdone, Thai gallery Nova Contemporary showcased a solo exhibition by performance artist Kawita Vatanajyankur featuring her arresting video works Air (2021), Lady Papaya (2023), and Lady Coconut (2023). In these, Vatanajyankur comments on the exploitation of the female body in traditionally patriarchal societies.
Art Jakarta is unique not just because it offers a platform for artworks typically ignored by other, more Eurocentric fairs in Asia (such as the aforementioned Art SG), but because it presents a selection of smaller booths with grassroots, outsider, and street art that is often excluded by institutions and commercial ventures. This arrangement, whether intentional or not, proved that the curatorial approach dared to embrace kitsch, experimentation, and a certain amount of provocation, while breathing new life into the somewhat stale and monolithic nature of most regional art fairs.
Alex Yiu is associate editor at ArtAsiaPacific.