Noorani Sukardi loathed art when she was growing up. "Like the other kids at school, I just wanted to go to Disneyland when I was little,” smiles the 34-year-old daughter of Laksamana Sukardi, a former Citibanker and government minister. “But my parents insisted on dragging me from one museum to another, and from one art gallery to another.
“I have been around the art world all my life, but I hated it at the start. I didn’t understand any of it. After a while, though, as I began to learn what it meant, art became a part of me. When you grow up in a family like mine, surrounded by art and artists, it becomes an important part of your life, more or less by default. Most people learn about art while they’re at school. For them, it’s just one of the many subjects they have to study. But for my family, art was something we lived and breathed.
“Art slowly became everything to me, just as it was for my parents. The passion just took over. In time, I developed a natural eye and an instinct for what was good. I also learned how the art business was run. I developed contacts and friends in the art world, and that’s why I made my career in art.”
The eldest child of Laksamana Sukardi, who served as Minister of State-Owned Enterprises in the administrations of two Presidents, Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati Soekarnoputri, Noorani was educated in the United States and Britain. She attended Trinity School, a highly selective independent preparatory school in New York City, and Concord Academy, Massachusetts, where she gained her high school diploma. (Concord Academy’s distinguished alumni include Caroline Kennedy, Ambassador to Japan, author, attorney and daughter of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Queen Noor of Jordan, the widow of King Hussein of Jordan.)
Noorani went on to University of London, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Law degree in 2006. Her youngest sister, Galuh Swarna Sukardi, also works in the art world. She works at the noted White Cube gallery in Bermondsey, London. “Galuh and I have similar tastes. We collect art together,” says Noorani. Thanks to her connections in the art world, as well as her knowledge of the subject, Noorani was asked by agricultural entrepreneur, philanthropist and art collector Budi Tek to take on the challenging role of Deputy Director of the Yuz Foundation at Yuz Museum Shanghai in June 2015.
Tek, who has known Noorani’s family for many years and has been listed by Art & Auction magazine as one of the 10 most influential people in the art world, opened Yuz Museum in 2014. His next project in Indonesia is the Budidesa Art Park in Bali. Tek has collected thousands of artworks, and he built Yuz Museum partly for the purpose of housing them. Its Chinese contemporary section is said to be one of the most significant internationally, particularly for covering the period from the early 1980s to the late 1990s. Tek founded the Yuz Foundation in 2007, dedicating its mission to promoting contemporary art from China and the rest of the world. It aims to popularise international contemporary art through its ideas, collections, museums, sponsorships and academic projects.
In 2008, the foundation established its first private museum in Jakarta. In 2014, the Yuz Museum was formally settled in West Bund in Xuhui District, Shanghai, under the umbrella of the foundation. In her role for the foundation, Noorani has been responsible for fundraising and sponsorships, for working with the museum’s contemporary art collection, and for collaborating with institutions such as the Tate Modern in London and The Guggenheim in New York. She has initiated and organised world-class exhibitions at the museum, and she has helped strengthen its network of international patrons. Among the art lovers she has got to know through her work for the foundation is Leonardo DiCaprio. Yuz Museum supports the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, whose mission is to protect the world’s last wild places.
“He’s a good friend,” says Noorani. “His annual auction in St. Tropez raises tens of millions of dollars for his foundation. He uses his connections in the art world to support his environmental causes.”
Noorani admits that she was initially hesitant about accepting the offer to join Yuz Foundation. “I was doing private consulting work in London at the time, and enjoying it,” she says. “London was my comfort zone. Why would I want to move to China, I asked myself? It took me a while to say yes.”
What convinced her eventually to accept the position was the knowledge that Shanghai was shaping up to become a world-class centre for the art world. “It was such an exciting challenge really,” says Noorani, “and it presented so much opportunity.” In addition, Tek was a friend of the family. She remembered meeting him for the first time when she was 10 or 12 years old.
“Shanghai is an amazing city with a growing and dynamic art scene,” Noorani goes on. “The Chinese are extremely fast learners. Shanghai’s art scene is growing faster than Hong Kong’s or LA’s. I’ve spent half of my life in New York and I like the pace there. Shanghai is just as fast, if not faster! At the beginning, I did not speak any Chinese really. Now, I can get by.” (Noorani is fluent in English, Indonesian, Spanish and French). The highlight of her stint in Shanghai, she says, has been the current “Alberto Giacometti Retrospective”, which opened at the museum in March and will run until July 31. This monumental, 250-work retrospective of the seminal Italian sculptor is the first of its kind in China.
“It’s the best exhibition I’ve ever seen in my life,” declares Noorani. In spite of her evident enjoyment of her 16-hour work days at Yuz Foundation, the highly motivated Noorani will soon be moving on - for personal reasons. She is getting married, in August, to Moreno Soeprapto, a former car racer who has gone on from taking part in Formula 3 races to become a Member of the Indonesian Parliament. Noorani says the couple will have a reception in Jakarta, but declines to give any further details of her wedding plans.
“It’s all going to be private, just for family and close friends” she says. “Moreno and I are both very private people. Are we looking forward to starting a family? Of course!”
Whatever the future holds for Noorani, there can be no doubt that she will continue to pursue her passion for art in some way or other. “I’m drawn to the abstract expressionism that started in New York in the 1940s, to Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko,” she says of her own personal tastes. “Those artists turned New York into the centre of the art world. Before they came along, Paris dominated everything.” She also admires Arte Povera (“impoverished art”), which was the most influential avant-garde movement to emerge in Europe in the 1960s, and the work of artists like Piero Manzoni and Jannis Kounellis.
Noorani relishes many of the projects she has been involved with in the last few years. In 2015, she took charge of sponsorship and PR for the Indonesia Pavilion at the Venice Art Biennale. Last year, she worked with her sister and with Christine Ay Tjoe to put on the brilliant Indonesian artist’s first solo exhibition in London, at White Cube. “I’m very passionate about being a bridge for Indonesian artists,” says Noorani. “I can be so useful to them. Apart from talent, the artists I want to support must show they have a strong work ethic.”
In her spare time, Noorani helps raise funds for Amfar, which supports HIV/AIDS research. She is part of the Artemis Council, with the aim of eradicating gender bias in the art world. (The council’s board of 15 young women includes Maria Baibakova, the daughter of a Russian mining oligarch, and Princess Eugenie, daughter of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, and of Sarah, Duchess of York). “I’m very passionate about supporting women in the art world,” says Noorani. “They don’t fare as well in terms of salary and they’re not given the same opportunities as men.”
In addition, she is on the Board of Young Collectors for Art Stage Jakarta, and she is also on The Young Collectors Council Acquisition Committee at The Guggenheim in New York. “If you have a lot of good friends in the art world, it’s easier to be trusted in this business,” says Noorani of her career. She notes that her father was a friend of Lucian Freud, the German-British portrait painter and grandson of Sigmund Freud. “I think he and my father met in New York.”
Noorani concludes: “It’s a small community really, the art world, and everyone knows each other. When it comes to raising funds and getting sponsorships, it’s a lot easier when you know the right people. Whether you’re dealing with artists or collectors, galleries or auction houses, it’s about networking and it’s about building trust. In the end, the art business is all about contacts.”
Photography: Zaky Akbar
Fashion Direction: Peter Zewet
Styling: Koko Namara