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An Interview with Wiyu Wahono, Indonesia's Most Cutting-Edge Collector


An Interview with Wiyu Wahono, Indonesia's Most Cutting-Edge Collector
Image courtesy of Wiyu Wahono

While in Jakarta for the occasion of the inaugural edition of Art Stage Jakarta, The Artling had the exciting opportunity to visit the private collection of Wiyu Wahono, arguably Indonesia's most experimental and intellectual collector. Keep reading for our exclusive interview with him, where we found out more about how he started collecting and his thoughts on the contemporary art of today. Scroll all the way down for images from our visit to his collection! 

"Java" by Jompet Juswidananto
Image courtesy of Wiyu Wahono

What inspired you to start collecting art? What was the first piece that you bought? 

As I was a student, I did a backpacking trip to Venice. It was the end of 1970s. Following the ‘must-see destinations’ in the travel guide, I visited the Peggy Guggenheim collection. There I saw a lot of uncolourful paintings that I found ugly at that time. I asked myself why these unattractive paintings deserved to be exhibited in the prestigious museum. The question has followed me since and to me, collecting art is a continuous journey of asking questions and finding answers.

Later, my fate brought me to get an apartment a few steps away from the New National Gallery built by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who was once the director of the legendary Bauhaus. At that time, my hobby was architecture. I admired the building and went to the New National Gallery regularly, where I also visited the art exhibitions. I also went to the Bauhaus Archive (within walking distance from the New National Gallery), where I saw a Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and it was coup de foudre. I bought a poster of the artwork and had it in my small apartment in Berlin. From time to time, I also went to vernissages in tiny galleries, where most of the visitors were students. 

In 1997, I moved back to Indonesia and in 1999/2000 I went to visit an Indonesian artist, Teguh Ostenrik, who graduated from the Berlin University of the Arts. I bought my first painting from him.

"Ting" (2008) by Tromarama
Image courtesy of Wiyu Wahono

A common thread within your collection is artists challenging traditional notions of medium. What drew you to look beyond two-dimensional artworks? 

In the modernism era art had to be medium specific. If an artist wanted to make a two-dimensional artwork, it was only possible to do it on canvas. If it was three-dimensional, then it would be sculpture. In the late 1950s, Robert Rauschenberg created a series of artworks, which he called the ‘Combines.’ Attached to the painted canvases were everyday-objects such as bottles, windows, clothing, taxidermied animals, etc. Subsequently, Claes Oldenburg created in, 'The Store' in 1961, in which he sold cigarettes, lingerie, hamburgers, anad more. In 1965, Edward Kienholz created 'The Beannery'. It was with such medium-aspecific works that the foundations of contemporary art were laid.

After the formation of the ‘objectless’ Conceptual Art, Harald Szemann (art historian from Switzerland) organized in 1969 an exhibition titled 'Live in Your Head, When Attitudes Become Form' in Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland. Robert Barry radiated the roof of the building. Lawrence Weiner produced a ‘painting’ by taking out 1 m2 of the plaster off the wall. There was a scandal after the show. The critics, public, exhibition commitee, and politicians found that Harald Szemann’s directorship was ‘destructive for the mankind.’ Harald Szemann left his position as the Director of Kunsthalle Bern and subsequently became extremely successful and became (until 2014) the only curator who has curated both documenta and the Venice Biennale.

In 1990-1991 Helmuth Draxler (art historian and curator from Austria) did an exhibition, 'The Message as Medium'. The exhibition was not done in an art gallery or a museum, but the printed page of the newspaper Der Standard and the economy magazine Cash Flow as the exhibition space. The artworks exhibited in the printed media were not the representation of the artworks, because the real artworks could never be seen.

The above groundbreaking exhibitions show us that in contemporary art, artworks do not need to be medium specific. Contemporary art is celebrating the freedom of the choice of medium. If a contemporary artist creates a painting, I get the first impression that he has put himself into a straightjacket, which actually doesn’t exist any more.

Only if he can explain that his context can only be conveyed to the viewer by the medium of a painting, then I can accept the medium. Or if he is doing a contemporary craft-based art (painting), like if he has to do it with a lot of skill, as if he is producing craft, then I can accept the medium. In the modernist era, art was divided strictly into 'fine art' and 'applied art' (graphic design, product design, architecture, photography, craft). This boundary doesn’t exist in the contemporary era anymore.

By showing medium-aspecific artworks my collection embodies a strong sense of this ‘contemporary spirit’. But I also show context-based ‘paintings’ in the collection, otherwise the collection may be seen as an ‘anti-modernist’ one - I have thus created another boundary. 

Installation view of Wiyu Wahono's collection
Image courtesy of Wiyu Wahono

You often refer to the 'zeitgeist', and how artworks should reflect the times that they come from. What are some artworks or artists that you see as the epitome of the 21st century? 

In the far future, people will look back and find out that the zeitgeist was the computer and digitalisation of the world (although, we can only guess...).

- Ryoji Ikeda - data.tronGranular Synthesis, Modell V, etc.

Another significant spirit of our time is Globalisation and the subsequent movement of people, the hybridity of culture and the question of identity (cultural or personal identity).

- Tintin Wulia - We don’t record flowers

- Ming Wong - Life of Imitation

- Narpati Awangga a.k.a. oomleo’s pixel art

- Angki Purbandono’s scanography

- Jim Allen Abel’s Uniform series


Speaking of zeitgeist, many of the works in your collection involve different types of technology. With technology's rapid progress, how do you ensure the longevity of a piece and ensure that it continues as it was originally intended? 

Nobody in this world has had experience with this issue, the so-called 'technological obsolescence', yet. This hybrid of technology and art is still very young. I think technological obsolescence is the intrinsic characteristic of technology-based art. So, I have to accept it.

If I don’t accept it, there is no place for me as a collector in this medium. It is comparable with the experience of collecting photography or video: If an artist chooses photography or video, he is aware that the file he gets can be reproduced many times. The reproductions have exactly the same quality. And a collector also has to accept this intrinsic characteristic. If he/she doesn’t accept editions, and wants to have a unique work, then there is no place for her/him in photography and video world. He/She would be better off collecting paintings.

"Relational Light, modulated #1" by Ernesto Klar
Image courtesy of Wiyu Wahono

You moved back to Indonesia after spending a significant amount of time in Germany. How have you seen the Indonesian artists and art scene developing and changing in the past decade? 

I have observed a shift from Yogyakarta to Bandung. I think in the future, Bandung will be a more interesting art center than Yogyakarta. I have served on the Board of Jury of the Bandung Contemporary Art Award since its inception. Annually, we get over 600 submissions, and the majority of ‘good’ works come from Bandung.

I also know some of the lecturers at both art universities. Some of the lecturers from Bandung are very knowledgable in terms of contemporary art theory.


You started your art collecting journey by reading systematically to expand your knowledge of art. What are some publications/readings that you would recommend for a novice collector or art enthusiast? 

- "What Art Is" by Arthur C. Danto

- "Contemporary Art – A Very Short Introduction" by Julian Stallabrass

- "But is it art?: An Introduction to Art Theory" by Cynthia Freeland

- "Contemporary Art – 1989 to the present" by Alexander Dumbadze and Suzanne Hudson

Image courtesy of Wiyu Wahono

Apart from art collecting, you also have a keen interest in architecture. What are some of your favourite architectural projects of recent years? 

I don’t read so much about architecture any more, but some of my favourites are: Isamu Noguchi (9 floating fountains is my dream art space) and I like Snohetta, Diller Scofidio+Renfro, Kengo Kuma, Rem Koolhaas.


You have a long 'wishlist' of artworks that you've been inspired by and would like to add to your collection, could you share a few with us? 

My dream piece is Shirin Neshat's Turbulent! Other works/artists are: Zhang Huan's 12 square meters, Santiago Sierra, Li Hui Laser pieces, Ernesto Neto, Sherrie Levine's Walker Evans appropriation, Tatsuo Miyajima's Death Clock. I want to have artworks made of fire, water, smoke, wind, and more. I also want to have an artwork that visually is a hospital bed with all the equipment (heart rate, oxygen monitors, etc.).

Keep scrolling for a selection of images from The Artling's visit to Wiyu's collection! 



Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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