The Issue of Fake Paintings Within Indonesian Modern Art

May 18, 2017

In April 2012, during the opening of the exhibition Back to the Basics, at the OHD Museum in Magelang, Central Java, the most senior collector and supporter of Indonesian modern and contemporary art, Dr Oei Hong Djien (OHD) exhibited paintings by late Indonesian master’s that were yet to be seen in public. OHD’s museum houses several thousand fine-art pieces, spanning a century of work, by emerging Indonesian artists to established masters.

Included in Back to the Basics were works by Affandi, Widyat, Soedibio, Sudjojono and Hendra Gunawan. However, for certain art observers and family members of some of the fore mentioned artists, shock and disappointment was the order of the night. OHD exhibited works of questionable authenticity.

His museum has previously been a target of numerous allegations of forgery regarding pieces by late maestros — including Raden Saleh, Affandi, Hendra Gunawan and S. Sudjojono — in its collection.

The weeks that followed were rife with uproar in the Indonesian art world, eventually leading to the Fine Art Round Table Discussion in Jakarta 24 May, a meeting of senior art figures, including OHD, engaging on matters that previously arose at the OHD Museum. On request OHD has since been unable to disclose provenance, detailed sequences of notes, or source of origin of purchase of any of the suspected works. OHD did, however, welcome independent investigative analysis of the paintings.

The issue of forgeries is not a new subject in the art world. Yet with the Indonesian art world lacking standard criteria, academic documentation, and copyright laws relating to fine art, gaps appear that allow fertile grounds for the business of forgeries.

Numerous forgeries have changed hands within the Indonesia and since 1980, and the business of making forgeries has been large. It is believed that during 1980’s boom at least 10% of Indonesian modern maestro’s paintings entering auction houses for sale were fakes.

In response to this issue has been the release of the book in May 2014 at the National Gallery of Indonesia, Jakarta, Jejak Lukisan Palsu Indonesia, (Tracing Fake Paintings in Indonesia), by the PPSI, the Perkumpulan Pencinta Senirupa Indonesia (the Indonesian Art Lover’s Association).

The extensively researched 382-page book, targeting collectors, contains articles by senior curators, collectors, academics and police representatives, as well as investigations into the practice of forgery, articles by experts and recommendations in identifying fake paintings. The book reveals that the business of forgeries is very well organized and outlines the 3 main practices involved in copying paintings. The PPSI hope the book will serve as input for the government to improve Indonesian copyright laws, and that an institution may evolve that serves as a body of information and a forum for discussion that will protect the consumer.

On 23 January 2016, following on from similar events in Jakarta and Yogyakarta last year (that attracted large audiences), the PPSI conducted the discussion and exhibition Lukisan Asli & Palsu - Problematika Seni Rupa Kita (Original & Fake Paintings – The Problem with Our Fine Art) at Rumah Topeng and Wayang Setiadarma in Mas, Ubud, Bali.

The first discussion, moderated by Dr. Wayan Kun Adnyana, featured Inda C. Noerhadi discussing counterfeit paintings and copyrights, and then Syakeib Sungkar (one of the authors of “Jejak Lukisan Palsu Indonesia” along with Agus Dermawan T, Prof Dr. Agus Sardjono, Aminudin, T.H. Siregar, Amir Sidharta, Asiong, Bambang Bujono, Mikke Susanto, Rusharyanto S.H., Wicaksono Ad) discussing the “ins and outs” of fake paintings in Indonesia.

The final session, moderated by Arif B. Prasetyo, included Bambang Bujono discussing the issue of reading the paintings in the Sudjojono collection at the Museum OHD, and Amir Sidharta discussing the works of Soedibio in the Museum OHD. The event was attended by senior members of the Bali art community, along with academics, collectors, artists, students, the media and interested members of the public and was an open forum allowing the audience to present statements and questions to the panel.

Within the exhibition is a selection of paintings in question by the Soedibio, Hendra Gunawan and Sudjojono that are digital reproductions of the original paintings, and of the paintings that OHD has collected that he claims to be authentic and appear in his book Lima Maestros.

Before I saw the book I knew there were a few things that were not proper taking place, however after studying Jejak Lukisan Palsu Indonesia, that shows good forensic demonstrations and analysis of the elements of the paintings under scrutiny there was very little doubt that the paintings are fakes,” art critic, historian, and columnist Jean Couteau said. “We have to know whether OHD was a victim, or implicated in the events, and to what extent? However, because OHD has not attempted to explain his situation in any way, we can be left with little doubt. In my opinion there needs to be more exposure of the names of the artists who are making the forgeries.”

I asked Couteau how the Indonesian art world can benefit from OHD coming forward and making some sort of admission and movement to bring a closure to this issue?

The art market in Indonesia is at an all time low now after the boom of 2008 and the issue of counterfeit paintings has created lack of confidence, and fear in the market and there are few new collectors wishing to enter the market.”

“Despite the event and the book project requiring enormous amounts of time and money the PPSI are dedicated to their cause, and the next project will be the publishing of a shorter, more refined version of the book, Jejak Lukisan Palsu Indonesia,” said Budi Setiadharma, President of the PPSI. “This will be made available for retail sale at a cheaper price allowing it to be accessible to a greater market of Indonesian people, especially students.”

Watch One Art Nation experts discuss how they applied provenance, connoisseurship and forensics to ferret out works by the most prolific forger of the last century as chronicled in the new documentary – Real Fake: The Art, Life & Crimes of Elmyr de Hory. Watch Now!