Arts |

A Discussion with Amir Sidharta on Art Today

Arts | 10 September 2021

Covid has seriously disrupted many aspects of Indonesian life but one which we don’t see every day is the art world which is important to a large community of artists, curators, collectors and simply art lovers. To find out where we are today who better to ask than Amir Sidharta who was for many years the Art Columnist for this magazine.

Amir is an art lover, a museum curator and an auctioneer. He currently manages the SIDDARTA Auctioneer auction hall as well as being the curator of the Pelita Harapan University Museum. Exhibitions he has worked on include the Tensions of Thought Debates in the Development of Architecture in Indonesia at Erasmus Huis and the Mooi Indie To Persagi Exhibition at the Jakarta Fine Arts Museum, 1997. He has also published several books on Indonesian artists, including S. Sudjojono Visible Soul, Vibrant Arie Smit, Erica Art’s Most Playful Child and a book on contemporary Indonesian architecture, 25 Tropical Houses in Indonesia. Publisher Alistair Speirs posed some questions to him.

AGS: During the pandemic has there continued to be an active art market? Are works still being bought and sold?

AS: Yes the art market is surviving. For example, we have had an auction every month. We alternate our Fine Art offerings with the Artfordable Auction and combine it with our Collectibles and Future Vintage offerings. So we are offering about 5 auctions of 40-60 = 200 - 300 fine artworks (30-40 times more than our pre-pandemic offering), 6 auctions of 60-80 that’s 360-480 artfordable paintings (about the same number) and 12 times 20 items =that’s 240 (about the same number of Collectibles and Future Vintage offerings). Pre-pandemic, we only had a maximum of 2 fine art auctions and a maximum of 4 artfordable auctions. The difference is mainly the turnaround is much faster, meaning that vendors only need to wait 2 -3 months (as opposed to 3-6 months previously) before they get the result, whether it is that the item is sold or not.

People are buying art although it is hard to predict the items they are going for.. they are getting pickier, but they also see the times as an opportunity to seize unique items that people have to sell perhaps because they are in need of money.

AGS: How are the transactions done if there are no live auctions? Is there now a virtual marketplace?

AS: We do our auctions online and live but without an offline presence. People can take a look at the paintings at our office (before PPKM). There are online exhibitions, one exhibition (of contemporary art) that I know only sold one painting. I think that it might be harder to sell contemporary art, particularly pieces by artists that are relatively newer, and therefore not as familiar to the general public.

AGS: Who are the most active buyers and sellers in Asia now? Has that changed? Chinese, Singaporeans, Indonesians?

AS: I think that there are new buyers, perhaps no change in composition, but just new people.

Abdul Aziz (Purwokerto, C. Java, 1928 - Denpasar, Bali, 2002). Music Recital.1972.; Oil on Canvas; 80 cm x 105 cm.

AGS: Are prices holding steady? What do you think will happen over the next 12 months?

AS: In general down 10-25 %, but up for the most wanted pieces. The general pieces will continue to go down another 10 % before it picks up again in the 2nd quarter of 2022.

AGS: Who have been the popular trades? Any big names doing well? Or some exciting new artists emerging?

AS: The Keyword is unique. The regular pieces by big names oftentimes fail to sell.

AGS: Will people go back to galleries after this is over? Or live auctions? If not what?

AS: After this is all over, certainly people will go back to galleries. I think that online auctions will stay, but combined with a real auction with bidders bidding in the room. I think that we will continue to do more frequent auctions.

(L) Andis Rivai (Tapanuli, N. Sumatra, 1987) Boru Namora #2 (Rich Princess); Acrylics on Canvas; 2020.
(R) I Putu Adi Suanjaya (Badung, Bali, 1994) "Kencut"; Acrylics on Canvas; 80 cm x 100 cm.

AGS: Is art still a good thing to invest in? What are your recommendations at the moment?

AS: Art is an investment, but not a normal financial investment where you gain when you sell. In art, you gain when you acquire the piece because you can enjoy the art. You can gain financially when you sell a piece of art, but you cannot enjoy the art anymore. So do you really gain?

AGS: What do you think of the NFT phenomenon?

AS: NFTs seem to be an exciting new way of acquiring art, but the most exciting part is what is called the smart contract of an NFT artwork. For example, sometimes NFT artworks come with a smart contract that the owner of the work will automatically be the owner of the derivative NFT artwork (the “child” of the NFT artwork). Or it can be any number of ways, for example, if you owned a pair of NFT artworks you automatically own the “child” of the pair, etc.

NFTs can also be used outside of the art market, to register artworks. This will be useful as provenance in artworks are becoming more and more important.

(L) Aryana, I Wayan (1975); Two Dancers; Tempera on Canvas.
(C) Artana, I Made; Taman Terong Ungu (Purple Eggplant Garden); Acrylics on Canvas.
(R) Agus "Baqul" Purnomo; (Kendal, C. Java, 1975); Al-Kautsar (Surah Al-Kautsar); Acrylics on Canvas; 2021.

AGS: Thank you Amir, and for those interested to see what’s trading head to