What to See at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara

A primer on one of the most highly anticipated museum openings in Asia this year, and what to expect from its inaugural exhibition.

Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room – Brilliance of the Souls.

November saw the debut of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara, better known as Museum MACAN, in the workaday Kebon Jeruk district of West Jakarta. Here, London-based MET Studio has deftly inserted 2,000 square meters of exhibition galleries, an indoor sculpture garden, and educational spaces into the podium of a commercial tower. A series of escalators bring visitors from the ground to an expansive glass-walled foyer and their first encounter with the museum collection, drawn from local businessman Haryanto Adikoesoemo’s personal trove of more than 800 artworks. Off to the side, a nondescript white box houses Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room – Brilliance of the Souls.

The institution aims to make all that accessible to the public, while creating a global platform for local and international talent. For now, the main draw is the inaugural exhibition “Art Turns. World Turns” with 90 pieces chosen by co-curators Charles Esche and Agung Hujatnika. “We wanted to give the public a sense of chronology, and show how the collection speaks of particular moments and artistic development,” Esche explains. “So we used a guiding framework of Indonesian art history from the mid-19th century to the present.”

The institution aims to make all that accessible to the public, while creating a global platform for local and international talent.

On display you’ll find creations by Indonesian Romantic painter Raden Saleh and Walter Spies, the Russian-born German artist credited with bringing Bali to the world’s attention as an exotic tropical paradise. Indonesia’s struggle for independence and its early years as a republic are also chronicled through the artwork, as is the interaction between local masters and the outside art world. This is exemplified by a pair of two-tone canvases, one from maestro Srihadi Soedarsono and the other by Mark Rothko.

Another notable piece is Arahmaiani’s deeply controversial Lingga-Yoni (1994). Stylized male and female genitalia representing Hindu fertility symbols are painted on a background of Arabic writing and ancient Pallawa script, a striking combination that alludes to the pre-Islamic culture of Java. Still more recent, Wipe Out #1 (2011) uses acrylic paint to recall FX Harsono’s performance art that delves into the struggles of his Chinese-Indonesian identity. All told, it’s a thought-provoking combination worth checking out before “Art Turns. World Turns” finishes its run on March 18.

This article originally appeared in the December 2017/January 2018 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Jakarta Rising”).

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