Haryanto Adikoesoemo has every reason to smile. His huge gamble to promote Indonesian contemporary art in Shanghai, one of the art capitals of the world, has proved a smash.
Now Haryanto, the president director of the AKR Group, one of the largest sorbitol producers in the world, says he wants to use that momentum to promote Indonesian art worldwide.
He said companies should invest more of their state-mandated corporate responsibility budgets in the arts. Recently, a change to the CSR rules mandated that companies spend at least 2 percent of those budgets on promoting the arts.
Haryanto invested $450,000 of his own money into organizing and hosting the one-month exhibition in Shanghai in conjunction with the World Expo.
He was helped by two partners, a lawyer and another Indonesian entrepreneur, both based in Hong Kong.
Entitled Contemporaneity: Contemporary Art of Indonesia, it was the first showing of works of Indonesian artists at a major exhibition.
It is telling that the Museum of Contemporary Art in Shanghai devoted a whole month exclusively to the exhibition, offering ordinary Chinese a rare insight into Indonesia’s artistic soul.
The exhibition, featuring 20 of Indonesia’s most influential contemporary artists, set the Shanghai art scene abuzz, rippling out through China.
The works spanned many media, with the artists expressing themselves through painting, photography, video, sculpture and interactive installations.
They explored the heart and soul of a nation and its many layers. Co-curated by Jim Supangkat and Biljana Ciric, the exhibition thrust contemporary Indonesian art onto the international stage.
That three individuals invested their personal funds, time and effort into promoting the creative work in such a major way was a breakthrough for the Indonesian artistic community.
If more companies would fund the arts as part of their CSR responsibility, it would be a huge boost to artists and would promote modern Indonesian culture, Haryanto said.
“If we can start this, we will boost the creative industries in a big way,” he said. “In technology we are behind the developed nations but in the creative industries, we can be on par.”
Under article 74 of the law on limited liability companies, all Indonesian companies are mandated to allocate funds for CSR programs and these programs must be conducted according to government regulations.
Since the law came into effect in 2007, most corporations have allocated their CSR funds to promoting education and health programs.
Indonesian contemporary art is still relatively unknown in global art circles. In 2009, Christies and Sotheby’s auctioned more than $600 million worth of Asian works but Indonesian art made up less than 10 percent of this figure.
Chinese and Indian art dominated the auctions.
“Art is an expression of the higher culture in any society,” Haryanto said. “In the West, an artist must be able to prove him or herself in France first before gaining wider acceptance, as France is viewed as the art capital of Europe.
That not only raises its prestige but brings in tourist dollars.” If Indonesia became more of an art powerhouse, he said, the same thing could happen here.
Given the importance of art to promoting culture, Haryanto said he hoped the government would pay more attention to the sector. The country needs more museums, art shows and exhibitions and should participate in international art shows, he said.
And he is backing his talk with his company’s money as well as his own. He said AKR wanted to be a leader in funding the arts.
“This is the first time we have invested part of our CSR program in art, as previously our CSR programs were focused on education and health,” he said.
“The Shanghai exhibition is thus a breakthrough in many ways for the company as well as the country.”
Haryanto said his dream was to hold an Indonesian contemporary art exhibition at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. Indeed, the Guggenheim could act as an inspiration for Haryanto as he seeks to create a museum of contemporary art in Indonesia.
Established in 1937 by Solomon R Guggenheim, an American businessman, art collector and philanthropist who made his fortune in mining, the Guggenheim Museum was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built between 1955 and 1958.
Today it is renowned for its dedication to promoting contemporary art.
“In the future I want to build a museum of contemporary and modern art,” said Haryanto, who himself has a significant private art collection.
“We do not have enough international-standard museums in Indonesia and I hope to inspire others to follow suit.”
The success of the Shanghai exhibition has encouraged him. The enthusiastic reception from both ordinary Chinese as well as art critics showed that Indonesian art has a voice and a message that speaks across national boundary lines.
“From the exhibition I did not get anything in terms of monetary gain but in terms of satisfaction, I received a great deal,” says Haryanto. “I am doing my best for Indonesia as a good citizen.”
The exhibition may be over but art fans like Haryanto hope the impression it left on the artistic world will last much longer.
A version of this article also appears in the September issue of GlobeAsia, on sale now.