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Fine Art and Ceramic Museum

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It would be kind to call Jakarta’s Fine Art and Ceramic Museum (Museum Seni Rupa dan Keramik) eclectic, but in reality it’s just a confusing mess.

The building itself is a splendid example of Dutch colonial architecture and is worth more than just a cursory glance and while the collection contains several fine works by prominent Indonesian artists as well as a large number of extraordinary ancient ceramic pieces, unfortunately the works are done a massive disservice at this shoddily presented and poorly maintained museum.

Boo! Photo taken in or around Fine Art and Ceramic Museum, Jakarta, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Boo! Photo: Sally Arnold

The grand white Neoclassical building with columned portico sitting at the eastern side of Fatahillah Square was built as the Dutch Supreme Judiciary in 1870. It is worth a wander to gauge the scale of the huge columns projecting from the marble floors, check out the pretty interior courtyard gardens and the iron spiral staircase leading to the second floor.

The first section of the museum is dedicated to fine arts, predominantly painting and the initial gallery introduces Indonesia’s prehistoric period in art. The exhibition then makes a major jump to the beginning of modern painting styles in the late 19th century with works by Raden Saleh who is considered to be Indonesia’s first modern artist. The galleries and works are then arranged more or less chronically though various Indonesian periods and art movements. These include the PERSAGI movement of the 1930s, works from the period of Japanese Occupation through to the establishment of Art Academies in Bandung and Yogyakarta the 1950s, the Post New Order period in the 60s and the New Art movement from the 1970s.

A relic from Palembang. Photo taken in or around Fine Art and Ceramic Museum, Jakarta, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

A relic from Palembang. Photo: Sally Arnold

Despite there being some sense of cohesion to the display, it wasn’t until we were half way though that we registered this, as the lighting is so poor that we didn’t even realise the large information boards in Indonesian have a tiny corner with English text. Additionally the paintings themselves are hung on flimsy undersized partitions that make the whole exhibition appear cheap and temporary. Works are presented as drab and ordinary, when at the time many of the paintings were produced, they were radical departures from the norm and deserve a far better showing. If you are keen on discovering the history of modern Indonesian art, spend your time at the Galeri Nasional Indonesia instead where you may actually learn something.

The ceramic section is much the same—an exemplary collection in poorly labelled, dusty and at times mouldy cabinets—some areas look like a junk store—yet among the collection you can find 14th- and 16th-century ceramics from Vietnam and Thailand as well as Ching and Ming pieces from China, a group of sublime white ceramic buddha statues, and Majapahit terracotta as well as many other treasures. We saw more than one beautiful Majahpahit ceramic piece held together with string—just woeful.

Better from afar. Photo taken in or around Fine Art and Ceramic Museum, Jakarta, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

Better from afar. Photo: Sally Arnold

To be fair, it seems plans have been drawn for a rejuvenation of the building, on display at the museum’s entrance, but it is suggested that the work would be carried out in 2107 and we visited in 2018 and there was no sign of renovation (unless we were looking at it, in which case they need to think again or at least ask one of the many staff to dust and replace a few lightbulbs).

So should you visit? If you are in the area and have the time, it doesn’t hurt to have a quick look, unless you would rather spend your 5,000 rupiah on an ice-cream, and art and architecture lovers are sure to find something of interest. If you are keen on museum hopping also see the somewhat better presented collection at the National Museum or if art is your thing, be blown away by the contemporary art at Museum MACAN.

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Fine Art and Ceramic Museum
2 Jalan Pos Kota, Jakarta
Tu–Su: 09:00–17:00
T: (0216) 907 062
Admission: 2,000 rupiah

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