Interview: Benny Oentoro for Art Xchange
Benny Oentoro is the owner of Art Xchange Gallery in Singapore, which opened at The Central in 2011. Art Republik sits him down for a chat.
Benny Oentoro is the owner of Art Xchange Gallery in Singapore, which opened at The Central in 2011. Representative of the work at Art Xchange is “Memory II” (detailed view, shown above and in the story thumbnail), 2014 by Camelia Mitasari Hasibuan. Art Republik sits down with Oentoro to find out more about what it takes to run a young art gallery.
How did you become acquainted with contemporary Indonesian art?
I was a car designer for many years, and have also dabbled in interior design but it was only in 2009 that I fell in love with contemporary art. I have a mentor – a family friend who is an art collector – who opened my eyes to Indonesian contemporary art. He taught me how to appreciate it and I began to educate myself through books and information available on the Internet.
And when did the idea to open Art Xchange come about?
I originally ran a gallery with two partners in Surabaya but soon left because our visions differed. I then opened up Art Xchange in the same city. In 2010, my gallery took part in the Affordable Art Fair in Singapore to see if it would be a good idea to open up a space in Singapore. My present gallery opened in the following year. Now, the Surabaya space has become a warehouse to store my paintings, and I operate chiefly out of my Singapore space.
As a young gallery, how do you look for artists to represent?
When I first started reaching out to artists and looking for good works to bring to the gallery, it was tough. Slowly but surely, through my work with the artists we represent, other artists are beginning to approach the gallery. This is a good development, but it also means I have to be more selective than before about who we represent.
What is the selection criteria?
The gallery aims to give young artists a chance to showcase their talent to the world. I select the artists to represent based on their own individual strengths. I want to work with artists the gallery can have long relationships with.
As a gallery owner, what do you do to ensure that the artists you represent are well looked after?
I’ve attended many art fairs, in Shanghai, Dubai and India for example, to look at art that is being made, and the quality of art that my artists can aspire to and learn from. I regularly go back to Indonesia to look at my artists’ work and share what I have learnt with them, and try in any way possible to help them constantly improve and become better artists.
Is your collector base mostly Indonesian?
The collectors are from all over the world. The funny thing is I had never exhibited in Indonesia before this year. In 2013, Art Xchange Gallery held the exhibition ‘Picturing Pictures’, curated by senior Indonesian curator Jim Supangkat at the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum, which showcased artworks by 21 contemporary Indonesian artists. He told me that many people knew the gallery’s artists but only outside of Indonesia, and urged me to showcase their work back home. I heeded his advice and for the first time this year, I took part in Bazaar Art Jakarta.
Was it a successful venture?
Yes. We had a warm reception, and the gallery’s artists were featured in the Indonesian press. It was great for them and for the gallery for our work to be put on par with top names who were also at the art fair.
Aside from looking after your artists, what do you think is important to you as a gallery owner?
I am interested to help people appreciate art for its intrinsic value, and not solely for its potential monetary value. I enjoy having my clients come to the gallery to learn more about the artworks and the artists behind them.
What are you most proud of with what you have achieved at Art Xchange?
I feel proud when collectors look at our artists’ work from year to year and see an improvement. I am also pleased when our artists are featured in the media. In general, I am happy when people see the work of the artists and appreciate it.
What plans are the plans for the gallery in 2015?
I am currently planning to move from my current space to a bigger one, and am in talks to make it happen. I am looking forward to the in-house exhibitions and events that I could hold in a bigger space. And as always, we will continue to strive to improve the work we do at the gallery. We are also looking to continue exhibiting outside of Asia. In 2014, we took part in the Art Antwerp International Art & Design Fair. This marked the first time we exhibited in Europe. In April 2015, we will take part in Artexpo New York. We are keen to have more people become acquainted with our artists.
For any inquiries regarding the gallery and the artists they represent, please email [email protected]
Text by Nadya Wang