From Chinese-realism to ‘Street Art’: Market taste shifts or market shifts

(Artworks used for illustrations belongs to I Gusti Ngurah Udiantara, Samsul Arifin, Uji Handoko Eko Saputro, Wedhar Riyadi and Oki Rey Montha. Works’ credentials are deliberately not written since the purpose of the using the image is as an illustration; it doesn’t really matter if we change the image into another similar styled paintings/works.)

Browsing through exhibition catalogues in commercial galleries for the last two years is almost boring. The artworks exhibited are almost uniform in visual. The works usually use acrylic on canvas as medium and styled in Juxtapozism. 1 The more careful your observation is, you would get even bored because the artists are all the same, not to mention the curator. But, relax; I am not going to discuss about the artists or the curators.

Behind the razzle dazzle of the visual art world in the last couple of years, there is something that I found to be interesting and is rarely discussed about: art organizers. A number of foundations that rises post-reform had called themselves art management, for example Heri Pemad Art Management, Indonesia Contemporary Art Network (iCan), and Team Organizer. Judging from their activities, these institutions are nearly similar to event organizers. But, because they had claimed themselves to be art management, thus, in this essay I will use the term to refer them.

These art managements are not auctioneers nor are they mere dealers. They helped the galleries to run exhibitions: selling the artists’ works, acting as consultants for newbie art lovers, collectors and kolekdol.2 The events held by these art managements are broadening the horizons of visual art events through unique ways. For example Pesta Seni Loro Blonyo Kontemporer (Contemporary Loro Blonyo Art Party) held in Magelang, 5 July 2008, a wedding party held concurrently with a visual art exhibition that included almost 100 artists; or the 69 Seksi Nian (69 So Sexy) held in Yogyakarta, 8-12 April 2008, exhibiting the works of 69 artists on canvas the size of 69×69 cm in the 69th birthday celebration of dr. Oei Hong Djien, a famous Indonesian art collector.

Both events exampled above are held by Heri Pemad Art Management (HPAM). “Everybody wants to be the head in visual art. The artists, the curators, the galleries, all want to be the head. I’ll be the legs then,” Heri Pemad answered my question regarding his positioning in the visual art field. Well, that’s interesting, I thought.3


The Juxtapozism styled (category of) artworks, between art lovers, collectors and kolekdol, is known to be called as ‘street art’.4  But don’t relate this street art with public art, not to mention site specific. ‘Street art’ here comprised off artworks that aren’t realism, social-realism, abstract, impressionist, or expressionist; especially if the medium is spray paint (Pylox), stencil, or using elements that could often be found in Graffiti.

Of course the existential history of Juxtapozism, which later by several curators (along with other visual art intelectuals) is called the lowbrow art, has nothing to do with the history of the Juxtapoz magazine. Lowbrow is basically an anti-high culture art (or highbrow) movement which was taught by all art education institution in the United States and was supported by galleries and all the collectors. I think, this fact was the reason why Juxtapozism styled artworks were often seen using elements of Western street art, especially Americans.

If the Juxtapoz magazine is the consumption of these young artists, of course the visual elements they produced are derived from it, or at least it could be safely said that the visualization in the magazine become a reference in their visual experiences. The same with those who are used to read post-modern philosophy books, then the ideas of Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, and Roland Barthes are often appear in their (artwork) attitude and behavior.

The last couple of years, Juxtapozism artworks are selling like peanuts in the art market; or to be exact the art ‘market’. I call it ‘market’ because it is different with the art market. Art market is art consumer who loves art (new or old) or collectors (the jetset or just in the sake of hobby). While art ‘market’ is art buyer who makes the artwork a commodity, investment, or even willing to wait for (or doing) commodification—borrowing the term from Karl Marx—to happen.

It is the ‘market’ individuals who in art essays are called kolekdol. The kolekdols are treating artwork just like artbrokers are treating the bonds of stocks they’re holding. The term of kolekdol got popular since the third art boom in Indonesia.5 The boom’s effect, which happened from late 2006 until the global crisis hit (late 2008), could still be felt right now. Just check the art agenda in Jakarta, Bandung, and Yogyakarta; within one week. You would find at least three exhibition opening, especially in commercial galleries.

The peak of the boom this time was the establishment of the Jogja Art Fair #1  (JAF) event; a side program of the Yogyakarta Art Festival XX, which is a business owned by HPAM. The first JAF event, using the name Yogyakarta as the Mecca of Asian visual art,6 exhibited 163 artworks of more than 100 artists. Although the basic concept is art fair, JAF is not a mean for Galleries promotions like its commonly known abroad.

JAF invited the artists individually. In this case, I agreed with Agung Kurniawan and Aminudin TH Siregar:7 JAF might be the best solution for the hodgepodge of art ‘market’ in Indonesia, and inviting artists directly without involving any galleries is better than facing the fact that collectors/kolekdol coming to the artist’s studio directly to buy (or even ordered) artworks. Yes, this kind of reality is happening in the visual art that experienced the boom lately.


The Juxtapozism artworks are now dominating the shocked Indonesian art scene. How would you not be shocked with something like this: someone who has not graduated from art school could sell a work twice the price of artworks made by Maestros such as Affandi or Fajar Sidik in an International auction; an art buyer could send an empty canvas to an artist and at the same time transferred the payment for a painting; at the opening night of exhibition in commercial galleries nowadays, generally 50% of the exhibited artworks are already sold.

The increasing number of commercial galleries since 2007 are also seen to often exhibit Juxtapozism works. In many occasions, almost all of these new galleries stated that they are dedicating their exhibition spaces for young artists who used to lack of exhibition space outside of their education institutes. The Juxtapozism artworks are created from artists that could fall into the category of young, considering most of them started college from the era of post-reform until the 2000’s.

The interesting question then arises: How can these art consumers get to know, to finally got infatuated with Juxtapozism artworks? Let’s use a common term generally used by these consumers in answering the question on ‘street art’ by ‘sewing’ the fragments in this essay.


Rumor has it, artists whose artworks are selling like peanuts in the art ‘market’ nowadays are avoiding this number: four. According to Chinese belief, the number four should be avoided. Four in Chinese is ‘si’, which when pronounced will sound like ‘se’ (like ‘se’ in ‘semantic’) which could also means ‘death’, although ‘death’ is actually written in a different manner: ‘shi’. Based on this, buildings whose owner is of Chinese ethnic, generally, don’t have a fourth level just like some Western buildings eradicate their 13th floor. The artwork style that always has its own specific market, regardless of the boom, is Chinese-realism.8

The beautiful and clean realism paintings are now side by side with the rough and messy expressionism lines a la the ‘street art’ works in commercial galleries, auction houses, and a number of collectors’ storage rooms. For that, I think, we should thank HPAM. Heri Pemad, since early 2002 had been fiercely promoting these ‘street art’ works, for instance Arie Dyanto’s (whose two-dimensional works are always utilize stencil technique with the media of spray paint).

At the beginning, Heri Pemad,  the owner of HPAM, confessed that he’s not sure how to define or categorized his job that basically selling artworks (to anybody) and doing things that curators and artists are not keen of doing; starting from administrative works, packing and delivering artworks, until reminding the artists of the work finishing deadline. Along with its legal forming, HPAM turn up with its logo in the shape of graffiti. Those ‘street art’ works now are mostly done with Juxtapozism style. Of course it’s because the (always said to be young) artists are the consumers of the American lowbrow art magazine.

Heri Pemad does not only promote his liking (and fate) to the ‘street art’ works. He even easily bought books, and showed it to his market, to educate them about the stylish artworks. Heri Pemad’s reasons are simple, he likes those kind of works and he believes that they have an economy value. Even though HPAM had just officially claimed itself as an art management in 2007, but its ability to shift the ‘market’ taste (and add a choice of collection to the market) is undeniable.



  1. The term Juxtapozism actually was first coined by Jogja Art Fair #1 to name a room filled with artists of young age whose style are influenced by a street art magazine published in California: Juxtapoz. Robert Williams made the magazine with his fellow artists and collectors. Williams is the pioneer of lowbrow art movement. His works style is a combination between pop-surrealism a la Ed Roth with a high level of figurative craft. His works tend to be a lot more serious than your common illustrator today. Agung Kurniawan then ‘preserved’ this term through his essays Wacana Bangkrut, Kurator Gendut (Lost Discourses, Fatter Curators) which was published in Tempo daily newspaper (31 December 2008), and Mengembalikan Seni Lukis pada Kekriyaannya (Returning Paintings to Its Craft), which is a curatorial note for the solo exhibition of Danney Junerto entitled Belajar Berani dari Takut (Learning Courage from Fear) in Kedai Kebun Forum, January 2009.
  2. The term kolekdol is an abbreviation from puns of words mixing English, Indonesian, and Javanese: di-collect tur di-dol (bought for collection but then sold [again]). This term is used to differ between art lovers who bought artworks and collect it for personal pleasure (collectors) and (commodificated) art lovers who bought artworks and then resell it. Eversince Putu Fajar Arcana and Ilham Khoiri often use this term in art news and reportage in Kompas daily, I think it’s safe to assume the public is already familiar with this term.
  3. All informations are quoted from my interview with Heri in early January 2009. While information’s (based on data and statistics) are taken from
  4. Street art works are usually in the form of graffiti, mural, or stencil art that could be found on the streets. Historically (in the West), street art works are artworks that are commonly unaccepted (or not suitable for) galleries as exhibition space for art in general. These kinds of works are not necessarily categorized as public art; because public art is an artwork that is made for (and communicate with) the public, thus it is put in public sapces. Also in several contexts, street art could be put under the sub-category of public art. Just like site specific —which obviously is considered a sub-category of public art— which its works are made specifically to be put in a specific location (usually a public/semi public space).
  5. It is the third only if we include the paintings commissioned by Pertamina in the 1970s as the first boom and the post-reform “abstract-surrealism paintings” as the second.
  6. Yogyakarta as the Mecca of Asian visual arts is the term made by Agung Kurniawan asn the artistic director of FKY XX, in the foreword for JAF #01 that is titled ‘Dari Jogja (Art Fair) Menuju Dunia’ (From Yogya (Art Fair) into the World.)
  7. Agung Kurniawan, in the same essay as the one above, and Aminuddin TH Siregar, Why Art Fair is Important?, also in JAF#1 newsletter.
  8. Chinese-realism actually is not an official style or stream (both academically or taxonomically). Yet, this tem is often used to categorized (very) realistic portraits works, very ‘clean’ with a little ornaments around it, or whatever figure is being painted —as realistic as photography (that made me wonders if any of those artist know the technology of camera), with ‘minimalist’ background (using only one or a little color). Aside of the common buyers are people of the Chinese ethnic, these kind of paintings commonly ‘ended up’ in Chinese art market, whether in gallery or in art fair.

About Grace Samboh

Believes in unicorn, conviviality and the struggle towards collective subjectivities—even temporarily.
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