Going Global

Managing director of Jakarta based international auction house enthuses JJK that Indonesian art is set to reach greater heights at the international level.  

Everyone has his or her own view when expressing the meaning of art. For an avid art collector like Deborah Iskandar, art is more than just the design of objects and artefacts.

“To me, art is an appreciation of the sophistication and delicacy of the striking elements of artistic forms such as painting and sculpture that you can enjoy anytime and anywhere. Art is also an interesting subject of discussion and study, in which you can share with your friends and especially among collectors,” she expresses her view.

Born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, the US; Deborah came to Jakarta as an investment banker in 1991 and has been living here ever since.  A certified public accountant, Deborah’s savvy in the fields of finance and business enables her to deliver quality advice to clients not only on building their collections, but no less important, on harvesting the profit from the investment insights.

Her passion for art has taken her to embark on more than 16 years of taking key role in international art scene. In 2008, she was asked by Sotheby’s, one of the world’s oldest auction houses, to establish its Jakarta office. And she has been heading Sotheby’s Indonesia since 2009.  Her main incumbency includes providing the advisory for clients who seek to build their art collections at Sotheby’s.

The recent Sotheby’s Hong Kong Spring Sales 2012 included Indonesian modern and contemporary paintings along with masterpieces from other Asian countries. Among the many offerings exhibited at the auction were works by Indonesian modern artists such as Hendra Gunawan, Affandi, S. Sudjojono, Ay Tjoe Christine, Samsul Arifin and Rudi Mantofani.

4307052cd0416df3f90288007dea6fc1-300x150Affandi’s iconic “Man With Cockerels” was among the top list of Indonesian best artworks. The piece is expected to reach the hammer price of US$250,000 or more. “There are Indonesian paintings that were sold at the previous Sotheby’s auctions for hundreds of thousand or even US$1 million or more, such as those of artists I Nyoman Masriadi and Hendra Gunawan. Hendra is one of those in the top lot at this coming Hong Kong Sales. His painting “Snake Dancer” was sold for a nice US$1.8 million last year. This time, the auction will feature his four paintings,” Deborah says prior to leaving for Hong Kong Spring Sales 2012 in April.

Looking at how much Indonesian paintings are valued at such an esteemed auction as Sotheby’s, are these Indonesian art objects really worth the investment?

Some collectors do consider art as an alternative investment because there are prices of some masterpieces that tend to rise as time goes. I see that many Indonesian paintings, too, appreciate more in monetary gain compared to the past. However, I don’t really encourage clients to buy art purely for investment purpose.  The main gain from a painting is its enjoyment value.  While many people do realize financial rewards from investing in art, it is usually those collectors who buy out of passion and love of the art. Those individuals who buy solely for “investment” are usually disappointed as they are never willing to spend the money for the top items.

Could you tell me in brief about your decades of experience in Indonesian art?

I started collecting art in Hong Kong 20 years ago. My first foray was in contemporary Russian art. Paintings can become like your children, as you hang it on the wall, enjoy it, and my kids grow up with it in their rooms. I have not stopped collecting, but I have changed my focus over the years, as the prices get stronger. I think at present Indonesian art is still the best collecting area in the current market, but if Chinese paintings prices start to consolidate, it could be interesting again.   As a professional, I have always had to buy on a budget so the best advice I can give is buy the best you can afford and hold for the long term.

In your own words, how do you see the future of Indonesian arts and the artists in general?

I think it is excellent. We have a lot of talented artists who need our support. We have a growing economy and strong collecting market, so the future looks bright.

How do you compare the Indonesian art scene with that from neighbouring countries like Singapore and Malaysia or perhaps China?

For Southeast Asian art, Indonesia and the Philippines are the most prominent 2 countries.  Both countries have vibrant art scenes supported by a huge number of talented artists, galleries, dealers and collectors.  Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia are smaller markets and not as well established with relatively limited top quality works in the market.  I think Southeast Asian art, as a whole, is no comparison with Chinese art yet. Chinese art has huge international interest, whereas Southeast Asian art is still predominantly an Asian market.

Do you think Southeast Asian art will catch up with that of China at the international arena?

Why not? I’m happy to see that Southeast Asian artworks, particularly those created by Indonesian artists, are growing into a more internationalized category in recent years.  Southeast Asian artists, including those from Indonesia, are more frequently invited to hold travel and exhibit in Asia and even in the US and Europe and there are more international collectors.  Yes, we are en route to the international level. There may still be a long way to go, but it has made a very promising start.

In your own view, do you think Indonesian people understand the philosophy behind the priceless masterpieces created by the Indonesian artists?

Absolutely! There have been great collectors in the country. The Former President Soekarno was one of the greatest Indonesian art collectors who amassed a fabulous collection of Indonesian art.   Indeed, many renowned Indonesian art collections are in the hands of the country’s private collectors who are overjoyed their paid off investment, especially since they did not originally buy for investment. . Also, they believe owning a unique art is a means of preserving its history.  Behind every piece of a masterpiece there surely is a history to tell.

Why do you like to live in Jakarta?

Jakarta is a very vibrant city, there are so many places to go, restaurants, exhibitions and even now international concerts.

What is the biggest frustration of Jakarta life? 

Traffic (grin)

Your travel destinations? And why do you like those places?

Between Christmas and New Year, we always travel domestically. Last December my family and I visited Padang and Bukittingi which was beautiful. I love “adventure travel. Indonesia has so many islands to explore, and vast cultural differences.

How about your favourite food?

Padang food. My husband is from Padang. (chuckle)

What’s your weekend like?

Relax! I am so busy during the week. So weekend is the best moment for me to spend with my husband, my two sons and a daughter. I like to cook on Sunday night. And spending time with my family is truly an incomparable source of happiness.

To conclude our interview, could you share with our readers some tips for investing in art and collecting objects of art?

As with any investment, you have to do your research.  You have to find what style or period that interests you. Some people prefer contemporary to Indonesian masters. It is important to find out about the artist per se, especially those on the top list of fame (as generally agreed by curators, galleries and art market experts), and the market prices and recent trends. You should attend gallery openings, auctions or simply go to a museum to see current trends as well as exploring your preference within your budget. The basic principle is to buy the best you can afford.

By Aulia R. Sungkar. Published in Jakarta Java Kini, May 2012 edition. 

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