Rudy Akili – Collector of Ideas

Portrait of Rudy Akili in Akili museum, Jakarta. (Courtesy of Akili Musuem)
View of Akili Museum (Courtesy of Akili Musuem)
Collection of Akili Museum (Courtesy of Akili Musuem)
Collection of Akili Museum (Courtesy of Akili Musuem)
Collection of Akili Museum (Courtesy of Akili Musuem)
View of Akili Museum (Courtesy of Akili Musuem)
CoBo Social Design and Architecture

Indonesian collector Rudy Akili, founder of the Akili Museum of Art, shares with CoBo his beginnings in the art world and his approach to both collecting and life.

INTERVIEW: Selina Ting
IMAGES: Courtesy of Akili Musuem


Portrait of Rudy Akili in Akili museum, Jakarta. (Courtesy of Akili Musuem)


“In art everything people are interested in must have something special,” says collector Rudy Akili. “I respect what people know and I want to learn it. When there is this kind of curiosity you can start having dialogues and enjoy contemporary art.”

Driven by this view the Indonesian businessman Rudy Akili – owner of Smailing Tour, one of Indonesia’s largest travel agents – became an art collector. His collection features local and international artists from both modern and contemporary art and is showcased in his Akili Museum of Art, the first private art museum in Jakarta.


View of Akili Museum (Courtesy of Akili Musuem)


Akili first came to art in 1997, and he started buying only relying on his taste. When he realized the potential of creating a collection, he began more structured, focusing on the Indonesian old masters, like Affandi and Hendra Gunawan, and the so-called colonials artists in Indonesia living in Bali around 1940-1950, like Le Mayeur and Rudolf Bonnet: “Back then they were still around but not many people knew about them”. In the following years, as he moved to the contemporary realm, his aim became clearer: building a comprehensive understanding of Indonesian art.

“There was a time in Indonesia when all the businesses were slowing down,” he recounts. “Back then we had time for leisure and we spent a lot more time with friends. One of the topics we talked about was art, which deeply inspired me. I started going to the auction houses and met some of the older artists in Indonesia. It was very fast that I fell in love with art.” Everything changed when China started to open, and Indonesians started to learn about Chinese artists.

“I went to China and I met a lot of the artists in their studios, mainly realist artists, and I brought them to Indonesia. Some of them stayed for one or two months, and we went to Bali together. We would rise early in the morning and went to the beach to paint. We had the first exhibition in Indonesia for Chinese artists at the Mercantile in Jakarta, which was very successful. Around 2000 you could hear society talking about contemporary art, so I went to China and Basel to learn more. I started to develop an interest in that.”


Collection of Akili Museum (Courtesy of Akili Musuem)


What is that attracts you the most about contemporary art?

Contemporary art is dynamic and full of diverse meanings and expressions. Everybody can have a different reading of the same piece of art. It depends on your personal experience, soul and character. It is different from the old masters, which mainly want to show their skills. In contemporary art, especially with the installations, it is all about characters and moods. You can feel that the work is imbued of the emotions that artists were feeling at that time. That’s why people can stand in front of a piece of art for hours, because they want to connect. They try to feel their own soul as well as the artist’s. With these new art lovers, you have to teach them how to appreciate art. It is similar with wine. How to appreciate wine, how to taste wine, how to make your own wine, how to keep it. With art, collectors need to find what they find relevant art from the jungle.


Part of your collection is composed of Chinese modernists. Is it because of your personal history as a Chinese Indonesian?

Yes. My father is first generation Chinese, but we were born in Indonesia. I speak the language, so I can communicate with Chinese artists. Art and culture is also a very important way for me to understand my own family history. In the ‘90s the relationship between Indonesians and Chinese was not as good as it is now. That’s why the Indonesians are blind to the Chinese culture, and it’s the same with China. By bringing Chinese artists and their culture here in Indonesia, and bringing Indonesian culture to China, I tried to create a link, a bridge for communication. Exchanging cultures creates respect, dialogue and understanding. I think it is very important to open this kind of communication through culture, which is a very soft way.


Collection of Akili Museum (Courtesy of Akili Musuem)


How do you usually relate to artists as a collector?

I learned to love art from nothing. I tried to collect canvases and even paint, as my own experiment. It is quite interesting. Then, when I go to artists’ studios, I feel comfortable talking to them because I have had the same experience. I can ask: “How did you make it?”. I can feel the paint. I always try to understand and appreciate people on a deeper level. It is just like religions, for example, you are Hindu, I am Christian. What is that you know about Hindu that I don’t know as a Christian? We can teach each other and have a mutual understanding. No enemies.


What is your learning process? How did you develop your collecting style?

I don’t have a system for collecting, I just got into art and developed my style. I taught myself about art. If you want to do something, you should know the basics first. You have to know what you are going to do and what you are aiming for. You can use this concept in business, in your life, your house, etc. Successful people must know what their strengths are and they must be disciplined. If they know their motivation, they can then plan for their goals.


Collection of Akili Museum (Courtesy of Akili Musuem)


Why did you decide to open the Akili Museum? 

One of the reasons is that, as my collection grew bigger and bigger, and I felt guilty to keep the artworks just for myself, my family and friends, or to put them inside a storage. I knew the artists wanted their work to be shown to the public.


Looking at the building of the Akili Museum, I feel it conveys spirituality through its minimalist design. Who designed the museum?

The architect is Jeffrey Budiman, of Grain & Green, a Singapore-based architectural and design firm. I appreciate his work and we were happy to work together on the project. I gave a few ideas to the architects since I wanted to have a museum without windows and lighting. I had the idea to make it felt like a temple. This is how we can avoid waste and maximise the space.


View of Akili Museum (Courtesy of Akili Musuem)


If you were not collecting art, what would you be collecting?

Everything in life is connected with art, for me. Life is art and you can appreciate it. There is no life without art. You have to survive; you have to make sacrifices. This is art too. I think that people can appreciate anything, or at least try. This goes also for pain. You can enjoy the touch, and not being afraid of pain. You should accept what comes to you. Try to face the problem. God gave you life. Don’t complain, try to appreciate life and you will enjoy it. It is very simple.


You have a very inclusive definition of art.

That’s it.


It is not the object that you are collecting, it is the idea.

[Laughs] Yes, you can say so.


Thank you very much!


Read more about art in Indonesia
Read CoBo’s interview with Rudy Akili’s son, Ronald Akili



Selina TING (Editor-in-Chief, CoBo), is a curator and a specialist in contemporary art with over 10 years of professional experiences both in Asia and Europe. Stationed in Paris and Brussels between 2004 – 2014, she has a network traversing the Chinese, Asian and Western art world. In the last 5 years, she was Editor-in-Chief of initiArt Magazine and Whitewall Magazine (China Version). Selina has published extensively on her research projects as well as on general issues regarding art and culture. Selina is currently Editor-in-Chief of CoBo, the first Asia community platform for collectors.



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