Arts |

Presidential Archives

Arts | 21 June 2018

This August, the art collection of the Presidential Palace of the Republic of  Indonesia will go on view for the third time. Research into the collection, which was started by Indonesia’s first President, Sukarno has revealed many interesting findings, enabled by both human and technological approaches.

Drawings by Basoeki Abdullah, Agus Djayasuminta and I Nyoman Djata were selected and developed into glass designs by Steuben craftsmen and produced into exquisite crystal pieces. Photo by Frank Lopez/NOW!JAKARTA

In 2015, Frank Lopez, Librarian and Archivist of The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands, Rancho Mirage, California, sent an email inquiring about the heirs of the three Indonesian artists whose artworks were included in Steuben’s Asian Artists in Glass project in the 1950s.

Drawings by Basoeki Abdullah, Agus Djayasuminta and I Nyoman Djata were selected from fifteen drawings commissioned by Karl Kup, Head of the Art and Architecture Division and the Spencer Collection of the New York Public Library, who toured 16 Asian countries for the project.

The selected drawings were developed into glass designs by Steuben craftsmen and produced into exquisite crystal pieces. Following up on this inquiry led to the discovery that then-U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, H.E. Howard Jones, presented the three original pieces produced by Steuben to President Sukarno at the Cipanas Palace in 1959. It turned out that the pieces are currently kept as part of the collection of the Bogor Presidential Collection.

The pieces will be included in the exhibition in August.

Among the artworks that have been selected, are two sculptures that appeared in the five volume album of President Sukarno’s art collection compiled by the official Palace Painter Lee Man Fong, published in 1964, The first is identified as a depiction of “Atenas, God of War” by R. J. Cappuro, an Argentine sculptor, while the other is a sculpture entitled The Hero and Humanity by an artist by the name of Eby Letur of the Soviet Union.

A simple internet research led to a couple of catalogues which included Capurro’s work. The sculpture is entitled El Arponero. Apparently, however, the sculpture is not of a god of war, but of a harpooner. Capurro, who lived in the La Boca (the mouth of the river) region of Buenos Aires was known as ‘the sculptor of the sea”, who worked on themes of life around the sea.

Searches into the name Eby Letur did not yield information about any Soviet artists. It was not until the actual sculpture was physically examined it was revealed that the signature on the piece was in Russian characters. Scribbling each of the characters onto Google translate on our device enabled us to obtain the Russian spelling: “E. Вучетич” and its latin translation: Y. Vuchetich.

The sculpture appears to be a replica of the Soviet War Memorial at Treptower Park in Berlin, commemorating  the thousands of Soviet soldiers who fell during the Battle of Berlin in 1945, and was inaugurated in 1949. The sculpture, depicting a Soviet soldier equipped with a sword, carrying a German child, trampling over a crushed swastika, was presented to Sukarno the Soviet Armed Forces in 1956.

Now many libraries and archives are openly and readily accessible online. Online research can now be easily done online remotely. Without the advances of technology, researching on the art history of the artworks that will be exhibited might still be possible, but would take a greater effort and much longer time. However, when we become too dependent on technology we forget about the human approach in research. Fortunately, we were reminded of this during our process of survey of research.

As we were interested to include an unsigned painting by Batara Lubis for the exhibition, during our survey of the collection of the Gedong Agung in Yogyakarta we invited the late artist’s wife and children to view the painting. The artist’s family immediately confirmed the authenticity of the painting, and while observing and inspecting the painting more thoroughly they pointed out a series of Batak characters which actually spelled out the artist’s name. This finding we would not have been able to obtain through technology alone. Instead the human approach was what enabled us to know about this fact.

The mention of Nasjah Djamin in the conversation, reminded me about the need to ask Djamin’s daughters about their father’s painting of a young woman in a red cardigan worn over a white shirt. We visited the family and obtained further information about the painting. It was a portrait of Lastri Fardani, who was at the time a school girl who participated in a play that the artist had written. His notes on a photo album page showing a photograph of the painting noted that President Sukarno purchased the 1958 painting for IDR 6,000.

An internet search led to our knowledge that Lastri Fardani, born in 1942, had written a number of novels and an anthology of poems. I inquired about her on Facebook, and within a few hours I had obtained her handphone number. I immediately sent her a message on Whatsapp, and Ibu Lastri Fardani enthusiastically told her story about the painting.

What technology combined with a personal human approach can do to art historical research is simply amazing. Moving forward, we hope to employ both approaches combined to learn more about our art and history. We hope that you will be able to enjoy the exhibition next August, not only to view the beautiful and meaningful artworks, but also to learn about their history,  as well as the behind the scene stories, which are equally if not more interesting and exciting!