Edwin Rahardjo: Creating a Reputable Gallery

IF you wish to purchase quality works of art it is recommended to do so at a gallery or an auction with a strong reputation and find more information about the works of art from a curator or an art academician.

In the last few years a number of art galleries have cropped up in major Indonesian cities. Many good and reliable galleries have also gone bankrupt, which means like any other business opening a gallery is not easy.

If the owner is not well prepared bankruptcy is quite possible more so when the public is not still familiar with the art world and less interested in expensive works of art while art infrastructure is also inadequate. However, this situation is a challenge in itself for any gallery.

One of the oldest galleries in Indonesia which has survived until today is Edwin’s Gallery named after the owner, Edwin Rahardjo. Edwin established Edwin’s Gallery in 1984 because of his passion for collecting art works. Initially it was in his four by eight meter garage on Jl. Sisingamangaraja 5, South Jakarta, in his parents’ house. Today Edwin’s Gallery stands on a 2,000 square meter plot with a 500 square meter exhibition area in Kemang, South Jakarta.

Success for Edwin’s Gallery has indeed not been easy because he also has experienced ups and downs in the business. In the first 11 years he suffered losses. But for Edwin it was a hobby and because of his love for art Edwin maintained the gallery. Before becoming a collector and opening the gallery Edwin was more known as a professional photographer. When he started to become interested in antiques, paintings and statues he was still a photographer.

However, due to lack of available information on works of art he started to think about opening a gallery in order to keep in close touch with artists. Then he started to collect works of art. “I was still a photographer when I opened my gallery. Most of the money from photography went to the gallery. Anyway, finally I left photography and started to focus on the gallery and today the gallery is earning for itself,” recalled Edwin who graduated from Hamilton School of Photography, in the U.S.

Edwin’s decision to become a photographer and later open a gallery was opposed by many close him, because in the 80s it was an uncommon thing to do. Edwin understood their concerns.

To prove that he had made the correct career choice he remarked that more than 1,000 major clients have used his photography services and Edwin had also held a number of solo photography exhibitions. “People laughed at me when I studied photography and also when I established my gallery. They said I was crazy because there would be few buyers as the consumers’ purchasing power was quite low then. But I did it anyhow because I love art and finally they understood my intentions,” said Edwin who in 1999 held a solo photography exhibition Mengkaji Representasi (Analyzing the representation) at ISI Yogyakarta.

Edwin’s interest in art started in his early childhood and was also attracted to many related things, such as lasers, holograms, electronics, design and so forth.

While studying architecture he also took up design and photography. He also liked to travel from one city to another in the United States and all this experience convinced him to pursue his interest in art. “Many foreign countries have works of art, museums and galleries and one day all countries will also have such things. So the gallery I opened in 1984 was not a mere illusion, but it was a prediction of the future based on the data I had with me,” said Edwin who also studied at UCLA Arts Center and Arts Center Design, in the U.S.

So with all the new galleries that have been established recently how does Edwin’s Gallery survive amid the competition? “A good reputation and reliability is vital in any business. And I am fully aware of that and have exerted all efforts to build my reputation. For the first 11 years I suffered losses. But that was the cost I had to pay in building a reputation and the right image. A gallery owner has to have a passion for works of art otherwise the gallery won’t last long,” said Edwin who was also appointed advisor for the Sovereign Art Award, Hong Kong for 2006-2007.

To build the gallery’s reputation Edwin personally selects each of the works of art for his gallery as not all can pass his tight selection. He also does not include works of art that cater to cheap market taste. Selecting quality pieces, he says, builds the gallery’s positive image.

For exhibitions Edwin is assisted by a team that gives suggestions in selecting artists with a good reputation. To him a gallery owner is like a designer because he or she will not create popular designs according to the market taste but will create original designs that the market will follow. “In principle I will include what I like. Just like a car manufacturer, they will only produce designs that they like. On this principle I stand alone. It is similar to the fashion business; innovative designers decide the trend for the following year. So just create the market and the trend will be followed,” he explained.

Art business is especially difficult because there are no definite measurements in regards to the value. To place a certain value on an art work Edwin seeks many references and compares it with similar types of work by other artists. The reputation of the artist is also included in the evaluation. “Works of art are quite expensive, so one must be sure that they are not trash. So it’s back to the reputation of the creator, his track record — like attitude, motivation, creativity and intellect” said Edwin who was also appointed advisor for Sculpture Park at Pakuwon City, Surabaya in 2007.

With the global market opening up Edwin believes that a gallery has to do more than just go local or serve the domestic market. Edwin has been interacting with many foreign galleries and has built a network in Asia, in Beijing, Shanghai, Korea and Taipei as well as a number of European countries.

The network is useful to introduce and elevate the reputation of artists that are under the umbrella of Edwin’s Gallery as well as for the gallery’s reputable existence. “A serious and good gallery is not merely a store that sells works of art, but can also assist young artists to realize their dreams,” he said.

Today Edwin is proud of the fact that hundreds of major artists have held exhibitions at Edwin’s Gallery. And a number of unknown ones have now been helped to gain fame.

To date Edwin’s Gallery has held no less than 140 exhibitions involving more than 200 Indonesian and foreign artists. Some of the exhibitions are as follows: The Hidden Works and Thoughts of Ahmad Sadali (1997), From China With Art (2003), The works of Mochtar Apin (2005), while some famous names are: S. Sudjojono, Affandi, Srihardi Soedarsono, Djoko Pekik, Bunga Jeruk, Sekar Jatiningrum, Tommy Wondra, and still many more from the generations of the 80s, 90s and current accomplished artists.

Having a reputable gallery that is famous locally as well as abroad is Edwin’s dream. What are his future plans once his dream is realized? “I will make a museum for the best works of art as well as keep on expanding my networking,” he said optimistically. (Tedy Matondang)

The Jakarta Post, February 26, 2011

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