There has not been any feverish polemic on art in Indonesia like what happened in the past. The memory of the 1974 Desember Hitam (Black December) manifesto following the disillusioned young artists in the defeat and humiliation in the art competition of that year held by Jakarta Art Council reemerges at the same place 40 years later, in Taman Ismail Marzuki.
The highlighted paragraph at the center of the exhibition entitled 40 Tahun Desember Hitam called for the retirement of the established groups comprising older thus conservative generation of painters and jurors.
Some 200 art works sidelined because of containing the then unrecognized extra elements in paints such as mixed media was derided by a statement that such new wave of arts lacked pure skill and creativity, and merely ventured into the questionable realm of experiments. Hence there appeared the dichotomy between good paintings and non-paintings.
The rejected many, some of which now become the country’s influential personas in local art scene such as FX Harsono and Jim Supangkat, upon hearing such negative assesment, made a stance in unity and released the Black December manifesto, to which they also faced the consequence, such as marginalisation.
Some went to far by saying that the art is dead. Subsequently they formed Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru (Neo Visual Art Movement) and several others that followed.
The media spread the publicity the phenomenon they referred to as the art rebellion. The fight between the established group of artists and their liberal counterparts have twice marked the modern history of Indonesian art.
Another intense conflict also occured in the 60’s between Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat (The People’s Art Institute) shortened into Lekra, which was mistaken for its affiiation to the communist party despite repeated correction that it was anything but, and the opposing group that came underfire at the time, Manifesto Kebudayaan.
Unfortunately it got pulled deeper into the escalating political struggle at the height of communism versus nationalism issue, and many from both sides were perpetrated throughout the political crisis era.
Curators Leonhard Bartolomeus and Riksa Afiaty told that they never intended to reintroduce the 1974 polemic of what is and is not a good painting. Hence they did not place the opposing paintings in two separate places even though they could.
Their intention, however, is to tell a story to current generation how exuberant the country’s art scene was 4 decades ago. Perhaps the commercial aspect in the capitalistic era has caused a long inhibition.