I Nyoman Masriadi's Jangan Tanya Saya Tanya Presiden (Don't Ask Me, Ask The President); 2007; Acrylic on canvas, 150x200cm Image Credit: Supplied

From hawking souvenir paintings to tourists in Bali to becoming the first living Southeast Asian artist whose work topped $1 million at an auction, I Nyoman Masriadi is the undisputed poster boy of the Indonesian art scene. With his exaggerated, wry satirical human figures that often evince biting political satire, he has paved the way for contemporary art.

His boxing-themed triptych The Man From Bantul (The Final Round) sold for $1.01 million in 2008, smashing the record for Southeast Asian artists. Since then, prices of his works are increasingly seen as indicative of the health of Indonesian’s art market.

And by the look of things, Indonesia has become a force to reckon with — it’s a big frontier for collectors, fairs and galleries, and a hothouse for artists.

Over the past few years, exhibitions, galleries and art fairs are growing by the dozen in Jakarta and the quieter central Javanese city Yogyakarta, giving support to artists to evolve and grow. Furthermore, auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s have expanded their footprints in Asia, while international art fairs, including Paris, London, Berlin, Venice, Singapore and Dubai, have been dedicating pavilions to the country.

“There’s always been a balance between the market and artistic discourse, art critics and non-commercial spaces,” Masriadi, the media-shy artist and man of few words, tells GN Focus. “It’s just that in Indonesia there was no great art space to present that earlier.

“Now, there’s a lot more enthusiasm within the art community to develop new activities.”

A fresh start

The first Art Stage event — the art fair that helped Singapore become an international hub for contemporary art — held in Jakarta during the first week of August, featured 49 galleries from 16 countries and dozens of Indonesian collectors.

“With Art Stage Jakarta, there is now a fair of international format and very soon with the new museum MACAN, there will be a museum of such a level,” Lorenzo Rudolf, the former Art Basel director who founded Art Stage six years ago, told Jakarta Post.

“I think Indonesia is on a good way and we’re all willing to contribute to its international future.”

Built by Indonesian businessman and collector Haryanto Adikoesoemo, who has a collection of about 800 works of modern and contemporary art, the 43,000-square-foot MACAN museum should be completed by the end of 2016.

Art has always played a strong role in the country with its melange of cultures. In fact, Balinese art became popular across Europe in the 1930s, transforming the island into a hotspot for artists.

“For sure, diversity has helped Indonesian art to thrive,” adds Masriadi.

He says his art is inspired by “social scenes, video games and movies”.

Supporting tradition

Collectors also play a crucial role in driving the growth of the market. There’s a rising interest from serious international dealers, such as Arndt from Berlin and Arario from South Korea. In 2014, S. Sudjojono’s Our Soldiers Led Under Prince Diponegoro sold for a whopping $7.5 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong.

Indonesia, which is experiencing a resource-driven economic miracle, has more billionaires than Japan, according to Forbes. Add to that 17.6 million middle-class households with room for discretionary spending, according to Euromonitor International. This combined with the strong connection between collectors and their traditions are shaping the country’s art scene.

“Until recently, only Indonesians collectors collected Indonesian art. But due to globalisation, Indonesia is getting increasing interest from the international art market,” says Oei Hong Djien, owner of the OHD Museum in Yogyakarta with its impressive collection of contemporary Indonesian art.

Alex Tejada and Deddy Kusuma are also prominent local collectors.

Apart from Jakarta, Yogyakarta — home to the Indonesian Institute of the Arts, the country’s top art school, and Cemeti Art House, the first contemporary art space and an incubator for younger talent — is a top draw for artists.

Even Masriadi made his home there. “Yogyakarta is the country’s cultural and intellectual centre, and so it has naturally become a place where artists thrive,” he says.

“It is an ideal place.”

The Gajah Gallery of Singapore, a major dealer in Indonesian work, has a branch in Yogyakarta as well.

In recent years, Masriadi has been featured at the Singapore Art Museum, Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art and New York’s Paul Kasmin Gallery among many others. And as prices for his work keep climbing, so do those of artists such as Entang Wiharso, Arin Dwihartanto Sunaryo, Jumaldi Alfi, Rudi Mantofani and Reza Afisina, making the country a powerful force in the regional market.

International footprint

In 2013, street artist Eko Nugroho, who mixes pop influences with local motifs, designed a scarf for Louis Vuitton. Tyler Rollins Fine Art in New York, which started working with Indonesian artists in 2009, represents Artists FX Harsono and Agus Suwage. Other New York galleries showcasing top Indonesian artists include Lombard Freid Projects, which represents Nugroho. Also, Wiharso, who has been included in biennials and museum exhibitions from Tokyo to Rome, is making waves in New York’s art world; his works blend traditional Indonesian styles with Pop and Surrealism.

Giving credit where it’s due, Ashley Bickerton, a mixed-media artist based in Bali, says, “Although we see many artists today succumbing to a convergent globalised style, Masriadi’s work has managed to fuse many divergent and distinct rhythms into one of the clearest and most Indonesian of voices.”

But being modest as he is, Masriadi refuses to take credit for taking the Indonesian art community onto the art world stage.

“Every artist has worked just as hard as me. Besides, fine arts have many dimensions, it’s not only paintings. Thus, everyone who is involved — from artists to collectors — share equal praise.”