Artworks have a wide range of purposes, from providing aesthetic pleasure and awareness to the public, to serving as items of business for artists, galleries, and collectors. Different genres attract different markets, and D Gallerie has created some revolutionary perspectives on contemporary art since it was founded in 2001 – and refreshed in 2006. Among the many changes it has brought about, D Gallerie was the first commercial gallery to promote photographic artists in Indonesia back in 2010 through Wimo Ambala Bayang, and also the first to promote graffiti artists in Indonesia, such as Jakarta-based Darbotz back in 2009, and recently France-based Kongo.
Located in South Jakarta, D Gallerie was founded by Aswad Dipo to channel his interest in modern Indonesian art and as well as Indonesian old masters. When the gallery director resigned, his daughter, Esti Nurjadin convinced him to let her continue running the gallery
rather than closing it down. Esti took over the gallery in 2006, she changed the concept and started over again completely, turning it into a commercial gallery, and focusing on what she was interested in: contemporary art, promoting young and emerging artists, and creating programs to attract people. Having only the gallery building with which to start anew, Esti auctioned off her paintings to earn her first capital to allow her to operate. She began building her network by going to various exhibitions such as in Bandung and Jogjakarta—where she met other artists and gallery curators.
Esti believes that a gallery represents the owner’s taste. Therefore, it is important for the owner to shape it according to their taste, because that is what differentiates one gallery from another and attracts visitors. In return, she can predict what kind of audience will visit her gallery. It also goes without saying that she needs to maintain the friendship and trust of artists, which ensures artists can sell their artworks through D Gallerie.
“I don’t exhibit artworks based on trends, but because they align with my taste. How can I sell them to people if I don’t even like them?” Esti says. Upon showcasing various artworks, she also gets asked a lot about investing in them. “I will tell people to buy something because they like it, not for investment. So, if the price rises in the future, it will be a plus point. Otherwise, they might find it regrettable.”
It is important to learn about taste, as divergent and personal as it can be, and to pay attention to it. By knowing her visitors’ preferences, Esti can offer a presale to the right person or collector before the exhibition officially begins. If a deal is reached, the artwork will be reserved and given to the buyer after the exhibition ends. Esti says that she tries to have each exhibition lasts for at least a month, to allow as wide range of people as possible to visit, as there are many other exhibitions in Jakarta. D Gallerie will keep unsold artworks for six months, and have them on display for ‘in-between exhibitions’—a period or break where there are no special exhibitions—along with Esti’s other collections. During this period, the gallery space is also available for people to book for events, which creates additional revenue.
The core business of the gallery is through selling artworks, dividing sales between D Gallerie and the artist, but they can vary depending on the size of the exhibition itself. Esti can organize the exhibition to be held at another bigger venue that can accommodate accordingly, but that equals higher costs for D Gallerie. The artist will decide pricing for their artwork, although D Gallerie can often give advice.
“Because the nature of an artwork is related to taste and interests, not necessity, their sales are very unpredictable. That’s why I don’t implement an exact business plan,” states Esti, adding that every gallery owner has different plans.
Therefore, instead of projecting the volume of sales, what she does is estimate how the year will go in a big picture, which allows her to plan which exhibitions she can subsidize. If she thinks that an exhibition is unlikely to reach a breakeven point; she will have another one prepared that can be more profitable. This situation usually happens when D Gallerie is holding a notfor-
profit exhibition, which is held to address a certain issue or to provide exposure for an artist, despite knowing the artworks have little to no potential to sell. Nevertheless, all the costs—from operation, lighting, to marketing still need to be borne by D Gallerie.
“Since it might not be profitable, I will cover the costs from the next exhibition. Usually commercial galleries don’t hold non-profit exhibitions, but I feel that as a gallery owner it is my responsibility to raise awareness about issues that should be noted by the public.”
This trend is particularly growing among contemporary artists. They use various media to convey their ideas and create something extraordinary and beautiful in order to tell a story—which is why Esti often prefers to promote this genre. There are Indonesian artists who are interested in exploring historical issues, and those who address global concerns such as the environment, refugees, climate change, and identity issues in order to keep up as citizens of the world. Since they may later jump onto the international stage, it is important for them to be able to relate and voice this global awareness. Esti also notes that in other countries, this purpose is usually served by public museums–but Indonesia still lacks such arts infrastructure. Another challenge is participating in overseas art fairs, where reaching a breakeven point is difficult because of the high cost of booths, accommodation, transportation,
storage, and installations.
“I think it’s necessary to participate overseas, but it needs careful calculation. I also have to prepare the next exhibitions that are profitable to cover it. Even if I bring an artist with expensive artworks that can cover the costs, there are still insurance costs and the high risk of taking them back unsold. So, there are plenty considerations,” explains Esti.
Since 2010, D Gallerie has participated in many overseas art fairs, facing unfamiliar territory and clients. Therefore, she needs to be able to read the market. She recalls attending three art fairs overseas in 2014: ART DUBAI 2014 at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, UNSEEN ART FAIR in Amsterdam, and one in Singapore. “They were very exhausting and costly. I had one sold-out exhibition out of that three, but I consider the rest as marketing costs. More importantly, I gained new experience and new networks,” she says.
This year, Esti says D Gallerie is not participating in overseas art fairs, as it is already occupied with two in Jakarta: Art Moments Jakarta at Sheraton in May, which recently wrapped up, and the upcoming ArtJakarta in August. The gallery also has its schedule booked with exhibitions until the end of year. At the same time, Esti is waiting for the right timing to expand to an ecommerce gallery, where she expects to enable D Gallerie to provide for online transactions on its website.
“Almost every business is now expanding to ecommerce, but it is still tricky for artworks. People want to see the artwork directly before buying, because you can’t savor every detailed texture just from a picture. For sure I will have to get into e-commerce, but only when the market is ready,” she says.