Modern Indonesian Art - Southeast Asia’s Best and Most-Neglected

At a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong earlier this year, “I’m Still Lucky”, a contemporary painting by renowned Indonesian artist I Nyoman Masriadi, went under the hammer for HKD 4.94 million ($637,000).

"I'm Still Lucky" by I Nyoman Masriadi
Courtesy: Sotheby's
"I'm Still Lucky" by I Nyoman Masriadi

It is not known how much the artwork has appreciated over the years, but Daniel Komala, CEO of auction house Larasati, reckons it was first sold 9 years ago at about $6,000, a fraction of its current value.

Such is the potential of the Indonesian contemporary art market, which Roman Scott, Managing Director of Calamander Capital, describes as Southeast's "best", but "most neglected”.

The art scene in the country remains the region's most “vibrant”, he added, with hubs concentrated in the cultural pockets of Jogjakarta, Bandung and Bali, also the residence of the county’s top art schools.

The Indonesian contemporary art market saw its hey day between 2003 and 2008, when prices were excessively inflated, with pieces being sold more than four to five times above estimate, says Komala. But the market has since plunged by up to 50 percent - a result of the global financial crisis.

“This is indeed a good time for interested collectors to reassess what is available before another upswing,” Komala noted.

Indonesia’s strong domestic demand for its own art pieces means prices will continue to see support. Komala estimates that one percent of Indonesians have the financial means to invest.

“If you take 1% out of 240 million you’re looking at 2.4 million relatively very wealthy people (in the domestic market alone),” he said.

In recent years, overseas demand has also picked up, particularly from buyers in neighboring countries like China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea.

  by Indonesian artist R.E. Hartanto
Courtesy: Larasati Auctioneers
  by Indonesian artist R.E. Hartanto

As for how much investors should be looking to pay for these pieces of art, Komala says $10,000 can go a long way for emerging artists. He reveals R.E. Hartanto and J. Ariadhitya Pramuhendra as artists to place on a “watch” list.

But with more established artists, investors may need to fork out anything between $500,000 and $1 million, he says. Indonesian art icons that fall in this category are Rudi Mantofani and Handiwirman Sahputra, and, of course, I Nyoman Masriadi.

“It’s like the stock exchange, they may not go skyrocketing within a short period of time, but their price keeps going up,” Komala explained.

However, turning $6000 into $600,000 isn't as easy as it might appear, for amateur investors looking to splash some color in their portfolios, both Scott and Komala stress the importance of gaining expertise in the market.

“Amateur investors don’t make good investors,” Scott said. “Go get advice…start by doing huge amounts of research, visit galleries, contemporary art shows, auctions and read.”