I know the many random readers of this blog have been anxiously awaiting my return from New Orleans. As that legendary five star General of a bygone age once said on the shores of the Leyte Gulf, “I have returned.”

A few days ago, I wandered around the French Quarter, greatly enjoying the art galleries that were there. I intend on featuring some of the artists who I encountered, as well as the galleries, but first I wanted to talk a bit about an Indonesian art store I found! Ever since my stay in Indonesia during the Summer of 2006, at the behest of the very generous United States – Indonesia Society, I have thought that a terrific idea for a store would be an Indonesian art and furniture store, but it looks like someone has beat me to it at least for part of that idea. Frangipani, located at 631 Royal Street, NOLA (website forthcoming), featured many of the wares that I had thought only available on Jalan Malioboro in Yogyakarta, by various vendors in Jakarta, and in small shops by Kuta beach.

A cursory survey on the internet reveals that such things are available, though when shipping and handling are considered, Frangipani comes out on top for cost on many goods. The store specializes in Indonesian wood carvings of many sorts, from those that seem like sculpture of the human form, to wall adornments that could form the centerpiece for an entire design scheme. The co-owner/partner who I met there was very cordial and a pleasure to speak with. She said her partner travels to Indonesia for two months every year immersing in the art world there, from Sumatra to Java and Bali. They interact with the artists and survey the art as it is done. Although I doubt it is fully true, from my own experience with Batik, I know it is possible. The owner said that their works were higher quality than the works a tourist could buy off the streets in Yogya or Jakarta. I am not sure this is true, either, but I also don’t think it matters. The works are beautiful, and in the southern United States, extremely rare. Moreover, purchases from this shop would support a local art store of some character that specializes in yet another emerging art market. I highly recommend you visit them. Indonesia is a country with between 200 and 250 million people, so you might be hearing from them more and more as its democracy solidifies and its artisans become more marketable abroad.

Interestingly, I just came across an article that suggests you may be hearing more about these artists sooner than you think. Aminudin TH Siregar writes in “Bandung artists attract market enthusiasm” in today’s The Jakarta Post that:

In the past three years, there has been more activity in the Bandung art scene. Young artists have emerged and new names adorn the established configuration. They are the generation born in the 1980s: Some graduated from an art school last year or two years ago, others are still students. Not only do they use various kinds of media, content wise, but they also take on new issues. Unlike five or six years ago when Bandung’s art scene was too laid back, today it is vibrant. […]

The market’s interest in absorbing the works of Bandung artists recently has been a hot issue and even became the topic of discussion the night the exhibition was opened. Obviously, it was difficult for [Bandung New Emergence exhibition] to release itself from the market trap. Since BNE-V.1 the market has shown its teeth. And that also happens in this BNE-V.2 and it is likely that the market will become a variable in the next BNE.

If this happens, I am afraid the BNE will only be seen as an arena to “fry” artworks, an arena of speculators within the high temperature of today’s Indonesian art market. The future Bandung New Emergence should not become the Bandung New Market. From what I heard during the exhibition opening, I have every reason to be concerned. Instead of considering historical aspects — about the use of Bandung label, for instance — the Bandung art scene, I am sure, later will only be considered as the new playground of art market players, after other cities experience saturation.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here. It is good to have an art market in Bandung. But a proportional market would be much better: a market that does not buy an artwork without observing the values presented by the exhibition and the work itself. The problem is, will the market be patient and is it willing to learn?

I would like to assure the author that the market is very patient, and in fact reflexively learns. Desiring a “proportional market” is akin to telling artists not to keep producing, or not to sell their wares that a profit-maximizing price, or to close off the demand for the market by keeping buyers out. Any of these options is ludicrous. Ask the market to change all you want, but consider the livelihoods at stake. There will always be niches and if the market demands more specialized crafts, then we will get that too. One needn’t shake her or his fists at the cloud because it is raining and it prevents one from hunting effectively. One need only move or start farming so that the rain helps irrigate one’s food source. Anything else is a waste of breath or resources.

In any event, this article suggests that with a little luck, we could be exposed to yet more diverse tastes in art very soon. I, for one, am pleased. But remember this will be less likely if we support fair trade, or any kind of trade barriers that raise the cost of doing business overseas — a point which the co-owner of Frangipani was quite reluctant to agree with, but may nevertheless find out the hard way very soon.

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