September 6, 2016 - Van Abbemuseum - Ade Darmawan: Magic Centre
September 6, 2016

Van Abbemuseum

Ade Darmawan, Magic Centre. Installation view, Portikus, Frankfurt, 2015. Photo: Helena Schlichting. Courtesy Portikus, Frankfurt.

Ade Darmawan
Magic Centre
September 17, 2016–January 22, 2017

Opening and artist talk: September 17, 3–4pm, Curator Christiane Berndes in conversation with Ade Darmawan

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From September 17, 2016, one of the project rooms in the exhibition The Collection Now will be devoted to a recent acquisition by the Van Abbemuseum: Magic Centre by Ade Darmawan (born 1974, Jakarta, Indonesia). Ade Darmawan’s work deals with Indonesia, its history and its people. He focuses on the histories that often remain untold, on minor histories that may seem irrelevant but form important elements of the DNA of particular communities. He uses a broad range of mediums including installations, digital prints and videos. He is one of the founders and also the director of the artist group ruangrupa, who are the curators of SONSBEEK ’16 in Arnhem, the Netherlands.

The multi-media installation Magic Centre focuses on the Indonesian publishing company with the same name which was mainly active and successful in the 1960s. The company published self-help books that claimed to improve people’s intellectual capacities, business qualities, character and success in life. The books have titles such as How to Be Rich, Your Key to a Happy Life, and Dynamic Leadership Techniques. Most were originally written by American and European authors and were later translated into Indonesian. The books were introduced in Indonesia during a period of social and political change. Darmawan is interested in this transitional period when Indonesia was changing into a capitalist society. The books were introduced to help people master life in a new capitalist world. Today, books like these are still being published worldwide as "motivational books."

In 1945 Sukarno declared Indonesia’s independence and became the country’s new president. In 1967 Suharto rose to power and changed Indonesia’s political direction. He overthrew the Communist party and was responsible for large-scale massacres. During this period the country was bombarded with nationalist propaganda from the government. Under Suharto the people in Indonesia were encouraged to embrace capitalism. He described the pro-western direction which the country was taking under his leadership as the New Order. A lot of energy was invested in Indonesia’s economic development. The influx of consumer products from “the West” increased dramatically during this period.

In this installation Darmawan critically analyses the political, social, and cultural shifts that took place in Indonesia during the 1960s. The installation includes display cases with copies of the books, illustrations from the books, sound, a diary of a former worker, objects which he found and purchased, and quotes. It also includes 20 shiny second-hand chandeliers made of damaged and broken crystal and fake crystal that together form one large sculpture hanging from the ceiling, a central element of the installation.

The display cases symbolise the new capitalist consumerist society. In Indonesia products are sold in these types of cheaply-made prefabricated display cases. They contain objects such as purses, souvenirs and other things, cast in glass, resembling small sculptures rather than mere consumer goods. With the presentation of these objects, often found at flea markets, sometimes broken or “incomplete," Darmawan undermines and comments on the fetishization of objects and commodity culture. One of the display cases contains books from the Suharto era that show the nationalist propaganda Indonesia was selling. Amongst the books are titles that were meant to attract foreign investors and salesmen in the 1970s and 80s such as Business Prospects in Indonesia Today. In another display case Darmawan has incorporated sound from a 1990s multi-level marketing motivational cassette tape titled Freedom. These types of motivational speeches are another step in the development from the motivational books. Multi-level marketing gained a lot of success in Indonesia in the 1990s with the country experiencing an economic crisis and people wanting to hold onto a dream of becoming wealthy overnight. 

Darmawan uses Magic Centre’s books to examine Indonesian society both in the 1960s and today. 

Curators: Christiane Berndes, Nina Svenson


The Ade Darmawan exhibition is part of The Collection Now.

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