Thomas J. Berghuis: Indonesia Needs a Contemporary Museum

Thomas J. Berghuis, the former director of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (MACAN), shares with Colours his love for Indonesian art and his view on contemporary museums.


Set to be opened in Jakarta in 2017, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara, commonly called Museum MACAN, will be the first museum in Indonesia dedicated to international modern and contemporary art. One of the key people laying the groundwork for the museum was Thomas J. Berghuis, who previously worked as a curator of Chinese art at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Despite having served for only a year and a half as the director of MACAN, Berghuis has been well acquainted with Indonesian fine arts for the last decade. His first encounter with the Indonesian art scene took place in 2006, when Berghuis was involved in a workshop with a group of curators from Indonesia.

Since then, he has become familiar with a number of leading curators, such as Enin Supriyanto, Rifky Effendy and Reza Afisina from the Art Space Community (Komunitas Ruang Rupa) – one of Indonesia’s renowned art communities.


“I went to Bandung, Jakarta and Yogyakarta, where I finally met Farah Wardhani, one of the founders of the Indonesian Visual Art Archives (IVAA). I learnt a lot and had the chance to talk to the artists, curators and collectors working in the Indonesian art industry,” he said.

Since early 2010, Berghuis says, he has also met and held discussions with renowned Indonesian artists such as painter Heri Dono, who frequently visits Australia, and contemporary performance artist Arahmaiani, with whom he has established a close friendship developed during his research on the performing arts.

“Every year or so, I visit Indonesia for various purposes, from seminars, symposiums and conferences, to researches and exhibitions,” he said. He claims that the Indonesian art industry is dynamic and constantly developing, hence he feels challenged to be able to do more for this vibrant community.

Berghuis understands that museums in Indonesia face their own unique challenges. There are a lot of museums in Indonesia, both private and public, and for Berghuis, a museum should eliminate the barriers between the artists and art lovers, and be a venue where people can appreciate art and engage in a discourse with it.

“Both the museum director and those who work in and establish the museum should be aware that when the museum is open, it becomes a public institution,” Berghuis told Colours.


A Message to Young Artists
Berghuis believes that artists are influenced by the era they grew up in. Artists born in the modern era, known as the Millennials, face unique social and existential pressures, and his advice for them is, “Be committed to your choice to become an artist. Young artists in the creative industry have to understand that a part of the process is to develop one’s skills from experience, the capability obtained from experiences, and that shouldn’t require a trophy,” he said, critiquing the many awards handed to young artists. He says that awards make art more of a competition and make the artists work only to achieve that aspect, rather than express themselves fully.

Fondness for Travelling
Travelling is not only a hobby for Berghuis; it is also a big part of his life as a curator. “I travelled with Garuda Indonesia on the Amsterdam–Jakarta direct flight, and I really enjoyed it,” explained Berghuis. Among the list of destinations he longs to visit are the far-off lands of Latin America, while he’s already looking towards a return to Indonesia to explore Flores Island in East Nusa Tenggara.