Museum MACAN and the New Beginning with Aaron Seeto


There’s a surge of inexplicable amazement and pride to see one of famous Mark Rothko’s Untitled piece hanged just a few feet away from massive Dullah’s romanticism-style painting, which is strategically placed near the very beginning of the tour – a depiction of Soekarno as the venerable orator alongside his followers who surrounds him in what feels like an ecstatic near-religious adulation.

Museum MACAN heralds a fresh, new era for an art scene in the western part of Jakarta – an area in the capital city where its association with art was unheard of for decades. There are so many words to describe this new establishment, but it’s difficult to pinpoint where to begin. For starters, the museum design itself was a glorious artistic sight to behold, a sweeping clear line of high glass windows and steel beams that surrounds the high-ceilinged, white-walled interior that was adorned with famous art collections from Indonesia and the rest of the world. There’s a surge of inexplicable amazement and pride to see one of famous Mark Rothko’s Untitled piece hanged just a few feet away from massive Dullah’s romanticism-style painting, which is strategically placed near the very beginning of the tour – a depiction of Soekarno as the venerable orator alongside his followers who surrounds him in what feels like an ecstatic near-religious adulation. As you walk deeper to the Museum, you will see more undeniable proofs of love for art from its founder, Haryanto Adikoesoemo.

The crowd of millennial visitors awaits in anticipation at the entrance gate of the museum; all dressed up nicely, of course – a sight that you will commonly see these days at any Jakarta art galleries, signaling the undeniable magnetic pulls of this establishment to the young generations of Indonesia. The famous and “hip” South Jakarta’s 1/15 Coffee also open a stall at the main lobby, further cementing Museum MACAN’s meteoric reputation as the new jewel in the heart of West Jakarta.

On this episode of INTERVIEW SESSION, Business Lounge Journal interviewed Mr. Aaron Seeto, the director of Museum MACAN. The Australian curator was appointed the director of Museum MACAN after the resignation of the previous director Thomas J. Berghuis. Now he oversees this Indonesia’s first large-scale contemporary museum that boasts works by the art world’s most illustrious names. We’ll talk about the role of Museum MACAN in today’s Indonesia art scene, its visitors and patrons, what to expect from the future, and what the director thought about Indonesian millennial collectors.

BL: Business Lounge Journal
AS: Aaron Seeto

AS: Well, I think … firstly Museum MACAN is the newest part of the culture infrastructure here in Indonesia and we really plan to be …  to do a number things quite differently to others. We’re the first international museum on modern and contemporary art, so our program, our collection is of course located here in Jakarta, but it’s also outward looking. You know, we are very aware of the types of our relationship that we have in South East Asia and also broader in International. One of the other things that people will notice when they come to the museum is that we’re modern and we’re fresh. The architecture of the museum is called MET Studio, they based in London. So we engage an architecture that planned the kind of visitor experience. And also one of the thing, a lot of thing that visitors want is when we present art and when we also look after collection, we have to ensure that we can control the humidity, we can control the temperature, and also control lighting because art work requires very specific situation for it to be fresh to look after for the future. And I think is one of the thing about Museum MACAN is not just about presenting exhibition, but it also very much about preserving thing for the future. Education is a big part of our activities, so you know, people will see to us, talks and most importantly our commitment to education. So we’ve got a space in the museum that is called The Children Art Space and this is an area where we work with an artist every six months to create an installation that is aims specifically for kids and their parents. We want to help build those art experiences and art appreciation here in Indonesia, and the best way to do that is to work with very young people and to work with their family.

BL: So, would you say that young people is one of your (main target) demographic?

AS: Yeah, I mean I think that we’re open in November, so we have couple of months of interacting and trying to understand to define who our public is. And I think that young people definitely is, they’re the one who we see quite a lot here in the museum. Of course young people and young families as well. But the museum is open for everyone, I mean you know, on the weekend we add a business time. You know, we see people from all kind of background, all age group enjoying the museum, and that’s definetely something that we want to encourage. It’s not just about targeting to one particular group, but creating experiences where people feel comfortable like you know, a young person could be looking at art work from nineteen century or people who maybe unfamiliar with  modern art whether they’re young or old are able to learn something and to contemplate here in the museum.

BL: You’re talking about experience, you’re talking about education,  what kind of experience and education, I meant, lesson … let’s say the experienced and new patron of art would gain from this establishment?

AS: Well I think firstly art is one of the great communicators. This is a cross time, you can learn about how people live and you can learn about other situation and other cultures by looking at art. So that’s really the very exciting thing, it’s you know, we want people to open their mind and to experience thing that they might not have had, have experience that they might not had before. But also they open to different type of conversation that emerged from an art work, and that’s important, that’s the role of art and that’s also the role of the museum.

BL: West Jakarta is not exactly famous as art tourism destination; compared with South or Central Jakarta; would this establishment change that?

AS: Think that my very genuine experience about is that art happen everywhere. And art is actually should be something which is open for everyone. So the fact that we located in the west actually illustrate a number of things. Actually there are a lot of thing that happening here in west Jakarta. And the cultural infrastructure doesn’t need to be concentrate in one place that it can be there to satisfy the need and the expectation of people all around the city. That’s, I mean, I’ll go back to this very interesting demographic that happens here in Jakarta. I mean people travel, people are curious and it doesn’t necessarily or because something in concentrated in the center and the south doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the only place that this type of facility should be located. But you’re right, I mean I think that what we are offering here in west Jakarta is completely different. But that also a broader understanding of how the city is also changing.

BL: I saw a number of new cafes and coffee shop that pops around here, I think that’s positive for the growth in this particular area.

art is one of the great communicators. This is a cross-time, you can learn about how people live and you can learn about other situation and other cultures by looking at art.

BL: Regarding our millennial – Indonesia millennial – we are quite new to this kind experience – quite new to this kind of thing. I mean last year, we had Art Stage Jakarta here and this is no small feat; It’s a big feat. Regarding art biennalle and art fairs we have a lot of history regarding that…bittersweet history. But what do you think about the new (millennial) pattern, What do you think about the millennial that come to your museum? What’s your thought?

AS: Well, I think firstly Indonesia and, I mean, if we look just look Jakarta itself it has fascinating demography. And that’s where this museum and this situation is maybe different from other places around the world, I mean it’s incredibly populous–, incredibly large population. You’ve got young people who are eager and also adverb consumer of technology. So of course what we see about the young audiences is that actually they engage with the world in the completely different way to generation prior, so that they look at the world through smartphone, that they communicate to each other through social media. And that very-very exciting situation because that’s means, the one of the thing that we’re very keen on doing in this museum is insuring that we communicate to people in the very clear way. So we embrace the technology, I mean – Museum MACAN is a museum for the 21st century, so it’s very different feel and situation to other museum that are around and in the future, you know, we want to be able to engage with all kind of age group, because it’s not just millennial who engage with technology. Technology is effected society every way, in every corner of society is been effected in some way through technology. And I think that–, we embrace it, we really-really do embrace it.

BL: So would say it’s positive?

AS: Of course it’s a positive thing, I mean, I think of course there are–, I mean it’s not just for millennial to this experience to being in museum is new. It’s actually for everyone. So there are numbers thing that we do notice, I mean, we use social media as a way being able to articulate some of the things that shouldn’t happen in the museum for instance. You can’t touch the works, we want to encourage people to had that contemplation, being able to contemplate a painting. So as much as we encourage people to take photograph, we also want to make sure that they have that one-on-one experience as well. And this is, you know, this is often the thing that can’t be explain or can’t be photograph, you know, when you standing in front of a painting and it might stick in your mind for days afterward because it much bug you, something about them might just affect you in the particular way. This things can’t necessary be reproduce through social media.

BL: When I was walking on that wing over there, I saw painting of Rothko, if I may ask you, how do you explain Rothko to the millennials?

AS: You know I mean I thing firstly what we would encourage is for people to spend time and to look, right. I mean it’s like listening to music, you don’t get it straight away, you actually have to spend time with it. And what this particular exhibition is done is to map out a broader history from the late nineteenth century from the Duchess Indies in this all the way through the global contemporary. So there are things that people will not of come across before. But, you know, we write information about the works so often the wall label is good way to start about understanding what’s going into it. But the thing that people to do is just stop and look, you know, have a look at the way which the pain is put to on the canvas. And how does it make you feel, what does it make you think about. And then over time, you know, you’ll be able to piece together some kind of broader narrative base in your own experience of standing and watching.

It’s like listening to music, you don’t get it straight away, you actually have to spend time with it.

BL: What should we expect from Museum MACAN in the future?

AS: We have a number of goals for the museum and I think the generally one is that we want to have robust museum here in Jakarta, so we building the infrastructure, we building the human resources, we building the programming in order fresh to have that sustainable program, sustainable museum. Other thing that we’re working on and a thing that is building to the DNA of the museum is to ensure that this kind of cultural exchange that happen between Indonesia and the rest of the world. So we work with others, you know, other museum, other curator, other collection around the world to bring them here into Indonesia. But then also to bring Indonesian’s art to the rest of the world. And we can do that through the broad network of the museum already has. And we’re constantly building up those network. So in the future we really want people to think when they think about art and culture in Jakarta that they think about Museum MACAN. That they think about this place as somewhere where they come and learn and contemplate things. And also place where they might see thing that never seen before. Be open to those type of experiences which you can only get in the museum. So, you know, definitely our plan for the future involved our local community, the city in which we live in but also expanding being outward looking to the rest of the world.

BL: I am waiting for that.

BL: How did you come to take on this role at Museum MACAN?

AS: So before I came to Indonesia, I was the head of Asian and Pacific art at the Queensland Art Gallery, the gallery of modern art in Brisbane, Australia. So my background is in contemporary Asian art, I’m curator of Asian contemporary art. And my role in Brisbane was really to manage a very important collection of Asian art. So Asian art that spand a very big geography and of course Indonesia is very important to that collection because of Indonesia relationship to Australia is close geographic approximate to Australia. I’ve always been, I’ve constantly been travelling throughout Asia for all my professional life and I was very happy to be asked to not only lead this museum and hope to be part of it’s inauguration to help build the foundation and the framework for conversation about art here for the future.

BL: Personal question. From all of the collections here, which one is your favorite?

AS: Asking a curator which is the favorite art work is wrong question to ask. I mean I think the way that I like to answer this is actually there are things in this exhibition which are even surprised me. Things that I’ve learn from just looking and contemplating the work, so the one I’m really proud of about this exhibition is kind of placement about works together. So we worked to present–, the curators are presented Indonesian art in the context of international art. So there’s one wall of the museum that has a really beautiful Jean-Michel Basquiat next to Heri Dono. Heri Dono is one of Indonesia very important contemporary artist and it’s very oily painting. And that relationship is really exciting. And then we also do the same thing with Mark Rothko and Srihadi. You know Srihadi is again very important modern painter for Indonesia alongside an American artist like Rothko is quite extraordinary. So it’s those combination of work which allows even people who are familiar with art to look at thing in the completely different way. I don’t have favorite. I mean there are things that just extraordinary, like the Xiaogang Zhang gun powder work, it’s just to contemplate the technical process that required to make it. Or to look at the Yukinori Yanagi ant farm. Just to look at the way in which artist are making work now it’s so very different from the approach of Raden Saleh in the nineteenth century. Here is a Japanese artist, I mean, also maybe experiencing similar thing in term of travelling between countries, the experiences of moving between culture, but looking at the kind of institutional structure of flags and using the social network of ads to draw out some of these.

BL: For me personally, there’re two things I like most: Rothko over there and Dullah. I never saw that (particular Dullah) painting before. But I’m always a big fan of romanticism.

AS: And you know, and the thing is not just the international work but even the Indonesian work is will be a revelation for Indonesian viewers. So a lot of the work has probably not being presenting in public for long time. A lot of international work is probably re-status and then being presented in Indonesia at all. So that’s really exciting situation to be in.

BL: On the subject of millennial collectors, two years ago, U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth® Department which includes a graphic of millennial collectors in America.

Now, the research found that two-thirds of the demographic subject believe that the real value of fine art is not its intrinsic value; rather just as riskless asset that is expected to increase in value, and Artnews described this behaviour as “faulty”. What do you think about that?

AS: Well I think the– firstly, millennial collector that there are young people who are beginning to collect. And I think their habits are also reflect the way which they communicate. So that they’re looking not just art from the places they based in, they’ve been travel to see things. And so they collecting very broadly, they collecting internationally. It’s a completely different situation maybe from previous generation. Well, I mean because the ability to travel and the ability to consume and research on the smartphone means that people can be very familiar of and knowledgeable about the things that they looking at. So that can only be a good thing in the sense of people are looking very broadly. But this ideal of intrinsic value versus some kind of monetary value already place into a this idea that art has some function outside of the role of the artist. So I think we always need to come back to what is it that art does in society, you know, which you call me that intrinsic value. I mean what is that experience of looking at a painting that is a pleasurable but that is purely personal. I mean it’s also like reading a book, I mean the relationship that you have as a reader to the words is totally personal.

BL: Let’s say, there is a new collector from Indonesia- and he came straight at you. And he said “Sir I want to be a collector right now” what would you suggest him/her?

AS: Well firstly the role of the museum is to open people’s mind and open people eyes. We don’t give advice. It’s not really what a museum does.

BL: I mean if you could?

AS: Yeah, sure, sure. I mean what I would do is that I would take that person and say let’s go and have the look of this exhibition, you know. Let see what’s going on this, let’s do little bit of–, let’s try to get an understanding of what’s going on in the mind of artist. I think what your–, I think more generally the point is that there are good collector and there are great collectors. And those great collectors aren’t just buying thing because it has some type an appreciable asset. I mean that’s kind of boring. It’s very, it’s also for cynical way of looking at the creativity of our artist community. I mean that they’re not making art work in order to create things that will increase in value. They making art work because they have some burning question or some burning issue that they want to articulate and they want other people to talk back to them. So I think that, I mean there are all kind of collectors. People can collect with very financial strategic goals in mind, but that’s not necessarily can make them great collector.

BL: What’s your take on the millennial collectors of Indonesia?

AS: Well I think millennial collectors as I said before that they’re well researched. You know, that they looking at thing all the time and they looking at things across different geography as well. So I think it’ll be exciting to see how that this generation of people continue to appreciate as they get older and how that they might be able to impact the next generation of people to appreciate art.

BL: What do you think about the current art scene in Indonesia?

AS: You know I think Indonesia has really strong art scheme. And always has and one of the thing about this exhibition we can see the relationship between artist and those broader issues that is going on in society. So it’s right from the period of the independence right through to now that artist play a very important role in society. And, you know, Indonesia right now, I mean I know that our peers around the world are very interested in trying to understand what’s going on here. So it has a very vibrate future in term of being able to–, Indonesia being able to participate on that broader global scale in the future. But at the same time I think that they probably too challenges for the future. One is around education. You know how do we continue, how do we strengthen art education in Indonesia. And that’s not just the role of educators, it’s actually a role for society. If we think that art has some role to play and being creative and understanding our cultural history is important, well we need to strengthen education. And the other thing that I think is will be a challenge for the future for Indonesia is how do we continue to support our artist. You know, how do we–. What other opportunity that will allow an artist to continue to be creative and to be provocative to help change and influence our future society and that is also not just the role of the museum, it’s not just the role for the art community, it’s actually the role for our society. We need people to be more receptive to these art experiences and to encourage art appreciation.

Michael Judah Sumbayak adalah pengajar di Vibiz LearningCenter (VbLC) untuk entrepreneurship dan branding. Seorang penggemar jas dan kopi hitam. Follow instagram nya di @michaeljudahsumbek