The Art Market 2020, an annual report by Art Basel and UBS, shows that the global sales of art and antiques reached $64.1 billion in 2019, driven by three major art hubs: the US, the UK, and China. However, sales in China have been declining for two consecutive years. Since then, attention is beginning to shift toward Southeast Asia. With its emerging economy, the region brought new opportunity with more art fairs held and private museums established.
Galuh Swarna Sukardi, who recently sat as director at world-renowned contemporary art gallery David Zwirner Hong Kong, believes Indonesian artist and art ecosystem is heading to the right direction to take advantage of the opportunity.
Galuh is among the few Indonesian women experts who engage and promote the country's contemporary arts. She has built her career in the art scene in Asia over the past decade. Galuh started at the international auction house Sotheby's Hong Kong in their Specialist Department for Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art. Sotheby's Hong Kong is also where her interest in contemporary art nurtured. She worked there for four years. Before her appointment at David Zwirner Hong Kong in February, Galuh was the head of Southeast Asia for White Cube and was based in Hong Kong and London from 2014-2019. One of the most exciting experiences she recalls is when she played a key role in bringing a rising Bandung-borne artist, Christine Ay Tjoe, to the White Cube's roster.
"Indonesia has a very strong and creative culture… I believe that art nurtures innovation, so it’s particularly important in the 21st century for the economy to support the arts… It’s about building a society and culture which represents and challenges us,” says Galuh.
Galuh mentions some of the trends in Asia is also happening in Indonesia, and the country's contemporary artists continue to expand their presence at the international art stage. Some of the recent achievements are artists FX Harsono and Heri Dono, Handiwirman Saputra who was invited to exhibit their works at Venice Art Biennale 2019, artist collective Ruangrupa becoming the curator of Documenta 15 in Kassel 2022, and two Indonesian artists—Christine Ay Tjoe and Melati Suryodarmo—are among 40 artists participating in the Asia Society Triennial in New York (which supposedly to commence in June). Contemporary art platform in Indonesia such as Museum MACAN (Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara) in Jakarta and Tumurun Private Museum in Solo has also gained lots of recognition.
With more great artists and platforms established in Indonesia, Galuh believes that the country is starting to have its art ecosystem built. Nevertheless, there need to be more initiatives from the government to create a stronger presence in art, culture, and heritage. The initiatives could be by facilitating more international exhibitions, creating an art and culture hub in every city, and conserving and investing in the art and cultural heritage. The actions can lead to more long-term opportunities and contribute to economic development.
Passion for arts is shared in Galuh's family. When her family travels, their to-do list includes visiting museums, galleries, and auction houses. Galuh's father is Laksamana Sukardi, the former Minister of State-owned Enterprises, who is also known for his passionate with antiquities, arts, and culture. And her sister, Noorani Sukardi Soeprapto, also has been very involved in the art world through institutions, writing, and fundraising.
As director at David Zwirner Hong Kong, Galuh is responsible for sales, commitment to the gallery's artists, and to present quality shows to the audience in Asia. She will also lead programs to expand the gallery's reach in the Asian market. The gallery was established by German art dealer David Zwirner, who until today has remained in the top five of most influential people in the contemporary art world by ArtReview since 2011. David Zwirner presents an exceptional roster of 68 prominent and influential artists from all over the world. Currently, the company has six gallery spaces in four cities: three in New York, one in London, another in Hong Kong—its first Asia gallery, and most recently in Paris.
"David Zwirner has a very sophisticated approach to the program and the market. It has an important spirit and commitment to nurturing and supporting artists' careers for a long period of time. That's one of the reputations that it holds," says Galuh.
In 2017, David Zwirner launched David Zwirner Online, the first online viewing room platform from a commercial gallery, on its website. Visitors can enjoy an informative experience of each artwork which include editorial content, videos, and supporting materials such as archival and historic photographs. The price is also displayed directly, so visitors and collectors who want to buy the artwork can choose the inquire option. Furthermore, to maintain its engagement with its audiences and collectors, David Zwirner also runs its podcast called 'Dialogues'.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe, all six physical spaces of David Zwirner were temporarily closed from March 16, but the traffic to David Zwirner Online is up 500%. Recent art fairs such as Art Basel Hong Kong 2020 had to be cancelled and instead, Art Basel launched its digital initiative the Art Basel's Online Viewing Rooms. It made its debut on March 20-25, boasting a lineup of 235 galleries from 31 countries, and more than 2,000 combined premier artworks with an overall value estimation of $270 million. David Zwirner reported having sold over $6.2 million worth of art at the digital art fair, with most inquiries coming from Asia 37%, followed by Europe 32%, North America 25% and South America 5%. This strong response also pushes the gallery to see what more they can provide online. It is also a proven way to interact with audiences, mainly since most of them are staying at home. Galuh also believes that once the economy has recovered from the pandemic, Asia will rise as a more substantial art market.
Recently, David Zwirner announced reopening its Hong Kong gallery by appointment starting May 5, while others remain closed. It is also holding an online viewing room program called Platform, which is already running its third iteration in May featuring Los Angeles-based galleries—after New York and London—with more versions coming up. Meanwhile, the gallery is keeping their eyes peeled for any new talents.
"My long term goal is to interact with the audience as much as possible and to make sure that a gallery is a place where everyone can come to and approach with no hesitation. I think it's also essential for people to be able to experience and be involved with art, and I hope to introduce our gallery program to the wider audience in Southeast Asia.