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An Indonesian Art Empire Expands in Central Java

Farah Fitriani Faruq
Farah Fitriani Faruq
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An Indonesian Art Empire Expands in Central Java
Situated in the heart of Java, Magelang has of late promoted itself as a city of services that is home to growing infrastructure and financial sectors. Magelang also connects several important hubs in the island’s central region — among them are Yogyakarta, one of Indonesia’s major art pockets, and Borobudur, an area famous for the country’s largest Buddhist temple and home to scores of painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians and performance artists. But as of last Thursday, Magelang is also claiming a stake in the Indonesian fine-arts scene. The opening of the New Museum OHD (also known as the OHD III Museum) provides another connection between Borobudur and Yogyakarta, forming a golden triangle of sorts on the Indonesian arts map (an actual map reveals a rather odd-looking triangle). The launch of the New Museum OHD marked the 73rd birthday of the museum’s owner and founder, Oei Hong Djien. Over two decades of accumulating approximately 2,000 paintings, sculptures, installation works and pottery, Oei has become one of the most influential art collectors and curators in the country. A large part of his collection adorns the walls and gardens of three buildings that make up the OHD museums. “All of the items in Oei’s collection are of high quality,” said Helena Spanjaard, a Dutch art historian specializing in modern and contemporary Indonesian fine art who has written a book about Oei’s collection. According to Letty Suryo, director of the New OHD Museum, the first two buildings, completed in 1997 and 2006, were designed as private museums around Oei’s residence. “This third museum is part of an effort to promote [Indonesia’s] fine arts to the people of Indonesia, and also to the world,” she said. Born in Magelang in 1939, Oei grew up in a family with a strong passion for fine art. Oei’s father was an art connoisseur and collector of paintings from Dutch and early Indonesian artists, which he displayed in the house where Oei grew up, planting the seeds of his blossoming zeal. Oei graduated from the University of Indonesia’s School of Medicine in 1964, before attending Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen in the Netherlands in 1968 to study a specialty. His taste in art, however, followed a courtship with kitsch. “I bought cheap paintings in the beginning and started to learn from them,” he said in a 2010 interview. Oei’s taste in art, and his reputation, has grown by leaps and bounds since his early encounters with garish, gaudy paintings and reproductions. He was an honorary adviser to the Singapore Art Museum before serving on its board. He was also a member of the board of directors of Art Retreat, a private museum in Singapore. He has curated several exhibitions and written numerous essays, forwards for exhibition catalogs and art books. Prior to the opening of the new museum last week, Oei demonstrated his expertise by explaining nearly every item in his collection to a group of reporters and art enthusiasts, cracking jokes about the artists and roaring his familiar hearty laugh in the process. The new OHD museum was formerly a tobacco storehouse, the interior of which has been revamped into post-industrial chicness, with high ceilings and an abundance of natural lighting reminiscent of Bauhaus, combining crafts and fine arts into architecture. The large, red doors of the museum are guarded by depictions of Guan Gong, a legendary Chinese warrior knight, and Gatotkaca, a hero in Javanese mythology. The historic icons lead the way to a colorful scene in Hendra Gunawan’s “Cart Puller,” one of the many artworks on display. Walking through the OHD I building, the group took in more than 120 artworks that bore the signatures of Indonesia’s art giants, including Affandi, Widayat and Hendra Gunawan. Sindudarsono Sudjojono and Soedibio are also on display. A huge, white sculpture of a pair of eyeglasses sits on top of the first building, overlooking a simple garden decorated with smaller sculptures that leads to OHD II. Minimalist in design, the second building is filled with around 100 art pieces, many of which are three-dimensional. Fingerprints of the likes of Tisna Sanjaya, Agus Suwage, Nasirun and S. Teddy Darmawan give the space a contemporary spirit. The third building is located near Magelang’s Pecinan, or Chinatown, and is only a few minutes’ walk from the other two museums. Silvery, embossed sculptures of macabre objects cover nearly the entire black wall of the main facade, hinting at the new museum’s unique ambience. The entrance corridor leads to a quirky patch showcasing creatively designed slabs of concrete that form the garden’s paths. In one corner of this yard, and resembling the rest of the concrete slabs, is a rusty, iron square complete with dismantled parts of a bicycle, onto which is carved a famous quotation by Albert Einstein: “Life is like riding a bike. To stay balanced, you have to keep moving.” When asked to describe the new museum in one word, Oei’s response seemed to echo Einstein’s words. “Passion!” he exclaimed. “Things keep moving when you have passion. When there’s passion, everything finds its way.” It has certainly been an unrelenting passion that has allowed Oei to collect renowned works by many of Indonesia’s greatest modern fine artists and to put them together in the New OHD Museum. Oei calls the collection “Back to Basics,” and it is scheduled to be on display until July before a rotation of the three museums’ items takes place. “I would like to show my greatest appreciation to all Indonesian artists, especially those in the fine arts, by opening another museum,” Oei said. “Hopefully all Indonesians, as well as foreigners, can delight in Indonesia’s amazing works of fine art the way I have.” OHD Museums OHD Museum I and II: Jl. P. Diponegoro 74, Magelang, Central Java New OHD Museum: Jl. Jenggolo 14, Magelang, Central Java taken from The Jakarta Globe

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Andrea Hirata

Berhenti bercita-cita adalah tragedi terbesar dalam hidup manusia.

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