‘We wish to be at one with society. There is a great need for art’

Aaron Seeto Aaron Seeto

Last week, Aaron Seeto, director of MACAN Museum in Jakarta, Indonesia, was a guest at the visitor’s programme with which the Mondriaan Fund brings foreign professionals into contact with colleagues and artists in the Netherlands, so as to reinforce and activate its cultural network at home and abroad.

”On both sides, so much remains to be discovered between Indonesia and the Netherlands.”

MACAN Museum is very young, but has immediately become immensely popular. How can we explain this success?

Aaron Seeto: ‘The eagerness for visual art is enormous in Indonesia, among a public of great diversity. Not just professionals and curious students, but also older people, school pupils, and especially a lot of young families – all find their way to our museum. In the context of the diversity of this audience, the educational role of MACAN Museum is interrelated through and through with its artistic and cultural function. Right from the outset. Social commitment and dialogue about visual art form the core of our mission. We wish to be at one with society. In this way, we can set a tone, because MACAN is the first museum in Indonesia that is completely focused on modern and contemporary art, internationally. In that perspective, we open up a museological infrastructure. Jakarta alone houses 10 million inhabitants. In the first three months of our opening exhibition Art Turns. World Turns, we received 130,000 visitors. Those are challenging numbers.  We have only been open for one and a half years and already we are expanding. Numbers are just one side of the story, but they do indicate that MACAN Museum satisfies an eagerness that we cannot yet fully estimate. The museum responds to a need. We are only at the beginning.’

Cooperation is a key word for MACAN Museum. Can this trip in the Netherlands be seen in that light?

Seeto: ‘It is an orientation journey, extra interesting because of the historic ties across continents, but also freely at a distance from history. Getting acquainted and exchanging ideas with museums and other art institutes is central to this trip, with a long-term perspective. Specific results will emerge in the future. The resonance between Indonesia and the world, bringing that forward: that was the starting point of Art Turns. World Turns, with the work of artists from the surrounding area and from the entire world. For this exhibition, we cooperated closely with director Charles Esche of the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, as co-curator. He knows the region and has a valued, artistic-substantive commitment to the discourse. Our wish to boost social and international commitment remains a guiding line, both in our exhibitions policy and in our educational programmes. This trip was marked by that dialogue.’

“What struck me at once was the strong infrastructure and the variety of collections.”

What are some of the striking results that offer further points of departure?

‘What struck me at once was the strong infrastructure and the variety of collections. The Netherlands, consequently, knows a range of approaches to art and discussions about art, which in turn offers opportunities to artists of different stripes. Something else that stood out is the marked awareness when it comes to the themes of diversity and inclusivity. In almost all the conversations I had, this subject matter was addressed. It is clear that galleries, museums and curators search for ways to tackle subdued prejudices and exclusive privileges in their organisational processes: to reconsider presentation and representation. Thanks to the Mondriaan Fund I have been introduced to various philosophies of museum policy and individual visions of exhibition practices; moreover, I have been able to look at collections, both in public spaces and behind the scenes. So it has been a very informative week. In spite of our worldwide digital networks, it remains of decisive importance to engage in dialogue, face-to-face with artists, exhibition makers and other parties concerned. The Mondriaan Fund offered a great opportunity for this: both to meet people in the Netherlands and to introduce activities and opportunities from Southeast Asia. I am grateful for the time and signs of interest from everyone who has spent time with me and I hope that this journey also awakens an interest in curators and artists to explore the developments in Southeast Asia; that this journey may be the beginning of further discussions and collaborations, or even: that it may be just the starting signal for sharing information about artists and art scenes. On both sides, so much remains to be discovered between Indonesia and the Netherlands, besides the complex colonial relations!

“It is about acquaintance and the exchange of thoughts, with a long-term perspective.”

The collection that lies at the foundation of the new MACAN Museum is the one of private collector and owner Haryanto Adikoesoemo, who, in the past 25 years, has brought together over 800 artworks from Asia, Europe and America. Is the exhibition policy interrelated with this collection?

Seeto: ‘with 90 artworks from our own collection, our opening show Art Turns. World Turns presented a rich picture of the collection. The collection and exhibition policy are closely connected. At the moment we show an extensive overview of the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow. It is a collaboration with the National Gallery Singapore and Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Australia. At this place I was head curator before I came to Indonesia. Behind the scenes in MACAN we streamline the museum processes that enable an exhibition at this level, with important international loans. In Indonesia, controlling the climate is a challenge in itself. Atmospheric humidity and temperature demand painstaking policies. In Indonesia this is the first overview of Kusama’s work, an introduction. Kusama’s work appeals to the imagination of a wide audience. The museum collects her work and has installations from each stage of her development, an oeuvre of around 70 years. Life is the heart of a rainbow is multi-coloured, as the title already indicates, but it also relates to the symbolism of the rainbow. It offers food for thought and it is a playful, spatially and physically attractive exhibition, exemplary for the presentations with which we offer an alternative use of leisure time: a way out of the endless shopping malls and flows of traffic in the city. Jakarta has only very few parks or gardens, and, by contrast, very many busy roads. MACAN Museum offers a counterbalance and is a retreat.’

Does the youngest art also get a chance at MACAN?

Seeto: ‘Parallel to the programme with great international names such as that of Kusama, there is the extraverted and dynamic programme, that is on at the same time: that of the museum as platform for local, national and international artists and the public. From the first day of the opening of the museum, which coincided with an important art fair on site, we have organised programmes with the introduction of young art and performances, in which the immaterial side of art is highlighted, often in an idealistic perspective. One example is the work Washing River by Yin Xiuzhen from China, a performance for which she froze polluted water from the rivers in the area, and piled it up in ice cubes near the museum. The public were invited to help her wash it clean. Countless hands have been involved in doing that.’