Xu Bing at MACAN in August

Aaron Seeto on museum-going in Indonesia
By A&M

Heri Dono, ‘Bermain Catur’, 1994-1998, acrylic and collage on canvas, 200 x 150cm. Image courtesy of MACAN.

Heri Dono, ‘Bermain Catur’, 1994-1998, acrylic and collage on canvas, 200 x 150cm. Image courtesy of MACAN.

Last month, Museum MACAN opened the major retrospective of Indonesian artists, ‘Dunia dalam Berita, or ‘The World in News’, named after a popular Indonesian news programme that has been on the air since 1973.  The exhibition examines freedom of expression through looking at the impact of the Reformasi in 1998 on artworks created from the 1990s to the early 2000s, and the influence of globalised popular culture on Indonesian artists since then. It features the works of Mella Jaarsma, I GAK Murniasih, Nyoman Masriadi, FX Harsono, Tisna Sanjaya, Agus Suwage, Heri Dono, Krisna Murti, S. Teddy D., and Taring Padi.

Xu Bing, ‘Book from the Sky’, installation view of ‘Xu Bing: Thought and Method’, UCCA, Beijing, 2018. Image courtesy of UCCA.

Xu Bing, ‘Book from the Sky’, installation view of ‘Xu Bing: Thought and Method’, UCCA, Beijing, 2018. Image courtesy of UCCA.

In August, the museum will put on another blockbuster show, ‘Xu Bing: Thought and Method’, dedicated to the works of Chinese artist, in collaboration with the UCCA Centre for Contemporary Art. Visitors can view more than 60 works including drawings, prints, installations, and films. These chart major turning points in Xu Bing’s artistic development over 40 years exploring a myriad of interests from culture, language and traditional knowledge systems, such as ‘Book from the Sky’ (1987-1991), to cross-cultural contact and globalisation in the 1990s to technology and modernity in more recent times.

Aaron Seeto, Director of Museum MACAN, answers a few questions about the museum’s robust programming in its sophomore year and its remit to cultivate a habit of museum-going among Indonesians.

How has MACAN been received since its opening by the Indonesian public and the art community at large?
We’ve been really grateful for the support from the Indonesian public as well as the regional and international art community. In our first year, we’ve had over 350,000 visitors, including close to 80,000 children and students. Going into the second year of operation, Indonesian audiences begin to understand the identity of MACAN as a leading cultural institution that showcases both national and international artists that are historically significant, also organising regular public programmes for different age groups.

Our continuous outreach to schools, educators and other education institutions is part of our core mission in education. We are steadfast in providing innovative ways for children and families to enjoy the exhibitions on view, and to help children better understand the works within the exhibitions.

We have also been able to collaborate widely with other museums and institutions, including hosting a survey exhibition of Yayoi Kusama (Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow, 12 May – 9 September 2019) in partnership with National Gallery Singapore and Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. A show of that scale involves many collectors who were willing to lend their works to the Museum. Later in August, we’re hosting a major retrospective of Xu Bing, a defining name in Chinese contemporary art. This show would be the first of its kind in Southeast Asia.

Mella Jaarsma, ‘I Eat You Eat Me’, 2001 – 2012, Performance in Jakarta, Indonesia, 2001. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy of the artist.

Mella Jaarsma, ‘I Eat You Eat Me’, 2001 – 2012, Performance in Jakarta, Indonesia, 2001. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy of the artist.

What are the goals MACAN has set for itself to achieve before the end of the year and how did these guide the 2019 line-up of exhibitions? These may be aims that have been in place since its founding, or new ones that have come to be.
In everything that we do – including planning and executing of programs – we keep in mind that the institution exists to be a valuable part within the society. We’d like to cultivate the habit of museum-going among Indonesians, facilitating them to have an enjoyable museum experience on every visit. Besides, we’d like for the society to be aware of relevant conversations surrounding the topics of social issues through art. Hence, our line-up of programmes for 2019, which features two major exhibitions, ‘Dunia dalam Berita’ and ‘Xu Bing: Thought and Method’.

Jakarta hosted the new Art Moments earlier in May and will host the refreshed Art Jakarta later in the year. How was/will MACAN be involved, if at all?
Art fairs have been an important way for Indonesian audiences to engage with both Indonesian and international art, and have built awareness amongst general audiences and specialist groups. We enjoy the critical conversations that surround these fairs, as well as the international groups they bring to the city. There is fruitful potential in this kind of activity.

At the recent Art Moments, I was at one of the panels to discuss ways to further develop the local scene. Later in August, we are hosting our MACAN Gala, a key fundraiser that will occur around the time of Art Jakarta. In the same week, we are also opening a major Xu Bing exhibition, making it an eventful art week in town with plenty of opportunities for talks and discussions.


‘Dunia dalam Berita’ is on view from 1 May to 21 July 2019, and ‘Xu Bing: Thought and Method’ from 31 August 2019 to 12 January 2020 at MACAN Museum.