Arts |

Old Town Jakarta’s Hidden Fine Art

Arts | 5 June 2016

In January 1976, during the inauguration of Basoeki Abdullah’s exhibition of paintings at the Hotel Borobudur by Madame Tien Soeharto, Indonesia’s first lady at the time, the painter called for the attention of the government to propose the creation of a national museum of art.

“He suggested that the building of the Ministry of Finance would be the perfect place for such a museum,“ historian Adji Damais recalled. Governor Ali Sadikin, who was present at the event, knew that it would be quite complicated to obtain the magnificent nineteenth century building. However, he assigned his staff to find another building that might be suitable. Jakarta’s old town, the heart of Batavia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, had just undergone historic preservation from 1970 to 1974. The Old Batavia town hall, which until 1970 was used as a regional military head quarter, was turned into the Jakarta History Museum, and the building which once housed the Old Batavia Museum of the Old Batavia Foundation, which stood on the site of the Old Batavia Church, was turned into the Wayang Museum.


Batavia’s courthouse, which was then used as the office of the West Jakarta township, was turned into the office of the Jakarta Museum and Historical Service. Governor Ali Sadikin decided that the old courthouse building would be the most suitable place to house the art museum, at least temporarily. Not long after his solo show at the Hotel Borobudur closed, Basoeki Abdullah donated Rp. 7.35 million (USD 17.710) from the sales of the tickets and one painting from his exhibition to Governor Ali Sadikin to help fund the art museum. The Governor immediately put his team to work. The building had to be prepared as an art gallery and there needed to be paintings to be displayed!

Hendra Gunawan-Pengantin Revolusi darkened

"Pengantin Revolusi" a painting by Hendra Gunawan 

Adam Malik, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, pledged to contribute a significant amount of artwork from his collection to the art museum. The Mitra Budaya Foundation, which consisted of many powerful personalities including Joop Ave. Herawati Diah, Maemunah Supardi Suharnoko Harbani, Soetiarsih Soeraputra Martadinata and Paramita Abdulrachman also worked to support the idea.

MSRJ Henk Ngantung

Left: "Tukang Becak"; Right: "Tukang Ikan"; painting by MSRJ Henk Ngantung 

They planned an auction to be held at their annual ball, in which around fifty paintings were selected by art critic Kusnadi of the Department of Education and Culture, former navy chief and ambassador Admiral Soebijakto and diplomat Sumaryo Sosrowardoyo, to be purchased for the initial collection of the art museum. Corporations such as Pertamina and prominent individuals like Adam Malik, Basoeki Abdullah, Ciputra and Alex Papadimitrou, among others, donated more paintings to the collection. From this Foundation Collection, the first exhibition was developed. On August 20th, 1976, President Soeharto officiated the opening of the art museum which was known as the Balai Seni Rupa Jakarta (“Jakarta Art Gallery”). The title of the inaugural exhibition, A Century of Indonesian Painting, was apparently inspired by the oldest painting that was exhibited, Raden Saleh’s depiction of an Arab horseman attacked by a lion, which was known as Between Life and Death (now in the collection of the Presidential Palace in Bogor, dated 1870).

Dede Eri Supria Urbanisasi

"Urbanisasi" a painting by Dede Eri Supria 

Not long after the exhibition, the museum added many more paintings into its collection. The Jakarta municipal government commissioned some works of art, one of which was Dede Eri Supria’s Urbanization (1977). Unfortunately the efforts never really developed a full-fledged acquisition program. A handful of more paintings were donated by some artists in the second half of the 1990s, following the Indonesian art boom of the mid 1990s, however, without a clear human resource development program, the Jakarta Art Gallery remained rather dilapidated even though there are some masterpieces and great works of art in the collection. Although the current employees have made quite an effort in improving the museum, focusing on programming, it is clear that they need the participation of the private sector as well. The successful launching of the Jakarta Art Gallery, prepared in less than half a year, could have only been possible because of the close cooperation between the public and private sectors. Hopefully, in the near future, the Jakarta municipal government and the city’s art community can join forces in a public-private partnership to revive this hidden treasure!