Wiyu Wahono: Collecting in the Spirit of the Times (II)

View of Wiyu Wahono's Collection (Courtesy of Wiyu Wahono)
View of Wiyu Wahono’s Collection (Courtesy of Wiyu Wahono)
View of Wiyu Wahono’s Collection (Courtesy of Wiyu Wahono)
View of Wiyu Collection
View of Wiyu Wahono’s Collection (Courtesy of Wiyu Wahono)
View from Wiyu Wahono’s Table  (Courtesy of Wiyu Wahono)
CoBo Social Market News Reports

Indonesian collector Wiyu Wahono is a great connoisseur of art history, an avid reader, and most importantly, a keen observer of how societal changes influence art. He is well aware of the need to know about art history in order to orientate oneself in the meanderings of contemporary art. In his view, to collect the right work, you need to understand the spirit of the times; what the Germans call the zeitgeist.

Interview : Selina Ting
Images : Courtesy of Wiyu Wahono


View of Wiyu Wahono’s Collection (Courtesy of Wiyu Wahono)
View of Wiyu Wahono’s Collection (Courtesy of Wiyu Wahono)


Part 2: Approach to collecting and Indonesia

Having lived in Berlin for 20 years, Indonesian collector Wiyu Wahono is quite familiar with the German word zeitgeist. However, when he went back to Bali, he realised that people were not familiar with this concept in the realm of contemporary art. He noticed that the art world was stuck in a painting style that belonged to the past.

“When I started going to galleries in Indonesia, I realised that I couldn’t learn much. At the time people were paying $30,000 for Arie Smith, a Dutch artist living in Bali, who did impressionism. I was thinking, impressionism in the 20th century? $30,000? That is crazy!”

Wahono believes that even if you can understand what kind of art reflects the zeitgeist, you can never be sure about what it embodies. At least not in the present: “You will have to wait 50-100 years from now before you will be able to tell. Only then will a collection conforming to the zeitgeist finally appear as a good one. That’s why it is an intellectual challenge to find out what will be seen as the zeitgeist of today and buy the artwork that relates to the significant zeitgeist. In 1989, for example, I saw globalization and movements of people, the hybridity of culture and the issue of identity as part of the spirit of contemporary art.”


Are artists more sensitive to this idea of zeitgeist compared to collectors?

Artists lead the way; museums, collectors and art dealers only follow. Artists need to have the sensitivity or intellectuality to reflect the zeitgeist. Of course, collectors need to have the knowledge and look for artwork that reflects the zeitgeist.

For a collector, the big challenge is to say no to an artwork that you like. This may leave many perplexed and it is really difficult to do. You see an artwork and perhaps it’s emotional for you because it relates nostalgically to a past period. Every time I see a certain kind of work, I always go: “Oh, this reminds me of the 80s and 90s.” However, if I can afford to buy it before proceeding, I first reflect on the impact it will have on my collection. I don’t want the collection to become incoherent. There are so many people in the world who have spent so much money to collect art, but they are not listed among the ‘great collectors’. The reason is they have created a collection that is too eclectic. Certain people are not coherent.


View of Wiyu Collection


You read a lot, does this inform your collection?

I read every evening before I go to sleep. It was from reading books that I realised the sense of contemporary art is about the context. There are several spirits of contemporary art that I have learned from books. I am very systematic in my readings. It’s an illness. So, I read books and made a conclusion about how to use the information for my collection. I have to pay attention in order to make my collection stronger. This is my approach and those who come to see my collection instantly see it and feel it.


Do you read mostly art books?

I also read books regarding art economics. This is because a lot of young people who come to me want to invest in art and ask me for some hints. I can’t give them direct information because I’m not investing in art. So I go to people who study art economics and ask them for book recommendations. Then I’ll buy what they suggest on Amazon. This way I can give people some quality information that will be useful to them as investors. I’m able to give them a couple of the books that they can read to start investing in art.


View of Wiyu Wahono’s Collection (Courtesy of Wiyu Wahono)


Do you generally consider art to be a safe investment?

If you do it right, yes it is. I know a big art investor in Indonesia who makes plenty out of art. A lot of people get mixed up about investment. They buy a painting for $100 or $10,000 and then sell it for $15,000, but that is not an investment as they are art dealers, not investors. Art investment is the same, whether you have $100 million, $10,000 or whatever. The real investor will say, “Okay, usually investors diversify their portfolio and I will buy 10% stock, 50% US Dollars, 10% gold and 15% property and land, and 15% art.” Every asset class has to bring a certain return that is, of course, higher than the bank interest. Then you manage your artwork in the moment. When the price rises, you have to sell because this profit will enable the portfolio to perform in the same way as the other asset classes. That is investment, not buying and selling. A lot of people say, “Oh, but I lost last time. I bought it for $400 million and now it’s only $15 million,” but this is not what we are talking about in investment. The real investor is doing what I said. If you do it right, art is a good investment, according to some people I have met.


Are there more and more young art investors?

I don’t really know because they are so shy, they don’t want to be exposed. They present themselves as collectors, but if you listen to them for 10 or 15 minutes, you realise they are only interested in the money. I know one person who openly admits to investing in art and he has one of the biggest wealth management companies in Indonesia. When I met him the first time, I saw his collection at his home, which included a few Damien Hirst’s. He says he treats his portfolio exactly like every asset class, like gold and others. It’s so funny. I invited him for dinner with a lot of young collectors and asked him if it ever pains him to sell the art he loves. He coldly said: “No, I just sell.” It was shocking! So crazy!


Are you one of the most outspoken collectors in Indonesia?

I think so. A lot of people hate me. I have lived in Germany a long time and Germans are very straight talking. They just say what they think. However, when people ask me what I think of a show that I don’t like, I always try to motivate my position, so the artist can learn something and next time he can do better. Artists must realize that when you exhibit an artwork in a public space, it becomes the public domain. You have to accept that there will be people who like it and people who don’t. You cannot filter the reactions and only have people say good things about the art. It’s not possible.


Are you still doing the art lovers dinner with young collectors?

I do. That is what I do in Indonesia. The art lovers’ dinner brings together friends and new collectors to sit together and discuss certain topics. Not regularly, but once in a while. We often talk about what we have bought and new ideas. In other countries, there is competition among collectors but we don’t have that in Indonesia.


What is the difference between owning a piece and going to a museum to see the work?

I like to see private collections more than museum shows actually. I think a collection reflects the collector’s personality. Whenever I see a collection, I always think: ‘What kind of person is he? What was in his mind when he bought these works, and what is the relationship between them?’ From there, I can suppose that he is, say, a very sentimental or emotional collector, even if he’s not present. This is always what challenges me. I want people to come to my office, see my collection and guess my personality if I am not there.


View from Wiyu Wahono’s Table  (Courtesy of Wiyu Wahono)


Some art pieces displayed in your office pretty much dominate the space. What effect does showing this very intimate side of yours have on clients?

It doesn’t help the business at all (laughter). On a personal level, every time I go to work I pass the art and I can enjoy it. When clients come in they always think it’s a graphic design office. If I have the chance, I take the time to introduce them to all the artwork a bit. I tell them I collect contemporary art and get a feel if they are interested at all. If they are not, then you skip it. Anyway, I think the office looks good, whether the clients like art or not.

I also think that having art in the office helps with our branding, as people feel like, ‘This is another level.’ I mean, I’m selling German plastic bottle blowing machines. Perhaps people who come to my office feel we have another level of sophistication and so the machines must be good. At least, I hope so. I don’t know whether it works or not (laughs)!


Also checkout Part I of Wiyu Wahono’s interview



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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