Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Kitsch Reigns in Yogyakarta (But There is Hope)

by Stephen Cummings

Ahmad Fuad Osman, 2007, Recollections of Long Lost Memories

Visit Djogjakarta — spelling is flexible — and you will be asked to visit a batik shop. Please, do not buy. You will be much better off if you make your way first to the Museum Batik so you can get a feel for what really is good before rushing into any purchasing decisions. As with any art, there is a lot more bad than not, and outside this small museum, batik is Yogyakarta's most abundant form of kitsch. It's made to appeal not to satisfy, like so much vacuous American cuisine. (Incidentally, there are some really big KFCs here.) Foreign visitors have obviously driven this colorful binge, and I suspect the same is true for Yogya's contemporary art market.

Like their batik counterparts, the works here cry out for attention. Generally large, and generally painting, all are working hard to be impressive to the international buyer. There seems to be almost no Asian influence in terms of style, these artists having bought fully into the plunge we've all taken from the European Renaissance. (Many are, however, happy to point to their own Asian-ness; a way to give specificity to the current in which they operate perhaps, and/or to appeal to Asian and Western buyers seeking representation from the East.) At Bentara Budaya Yogyakarta, the opening of a new show had vague hints of interest, but really was just flat. At Tujuh Bintang Art Space: a host of painters eager to proclaim their own relevance with references ranging from Frida Kahlo to Jasper Johns to Antonio López García and James Rosenquist and Picasso all at once. One artist even fancied himself Picasso's heir, maybe the greatest absurdity of my entire visit. (A note to those: painting a picture of an artist does not demonstrate an understanding of and/or influence by his or her work.) Others seemed to think large representations of attractive women would carry the day. One painted dinosaurs.

At Sangkring Art Space heroicism was the order of the day. Marvel At My Ambitious Achievement. A lot of hot air. Here though, our first exception: Ahmad Fuad Osman blows just as much smoke as the rest; he just does it better — sometimes. His irreverent sense of humor is evident in Recollections of Long Lost Memories (2007), in which he's placed himself (in this version) into thirty-six historical photographs hung in a grid, as well as in Untitled (Shit Happens) (2010), wherein a blender is plugged into the wall, and has a fish living inside. He's an asshole, but you have to respect the wit. He did however also make some of those huge, full-of-himself, bad paintings I was complaining about, so where do I go with that? (I could not bring myself to kill the fish.)

At Jogja Gallery the 4th Anniversary show, which closed Sunday, was likewise clogged with that brand of contemporary painting loathe to relinquish any of the hard-won draftsmanship acquired in art school, and trying desperately to synthesize something new from our accumulated cultural detritus, but ending up just so much more of the same. Britney Spears and graphic novels featured. One sculptor seemed to make work expressly for that terrible cirque gallery at Bellagio Las Vegas. But the gallery did well with its choice for the show's banner: Bunga Jeruk's Boy With No Name (2009) is kitsch with a sense of humor. An absurd, resigned, cartoon of a boy carrying over his head an equally shiny though passably realistic canvas sack, this painted resin sculpture might be a heavy handed comment on child labor if handled any differently. As it is, the message comes across — or is that the message? — but with a smirk. On a nearby wall Dedy Sufriadi's You Can Take This Season #3 stood out from the rest with a rigor and urgency akin to the Abstract Expressionists, with layer after layer of paint, and spray painted and markered scrawl interwoven with a minimal arrangement of blue rectangle on light background. It's classic-ish, made now with the nod to graffiti, without being overdone.

All of this work risks falling off into effete, but for the moment these four at least stay with you, exuding that certain amount of authority that's lacking in things like . . . bad batik. I hope these artists will continue to not do what their peers are doing (and in Osman's case, I guess, stop doing part of what he's doing). This is work I can get behind. The rest, is cheap.

No comments:

Post a Comment