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Marrying art and philanthropy with the young Chairwoman of Museum Macan Foundation

Fenessa Adikoesoemo, the young Chairwoman of Museum Macan Foundation, has devoted her life to the two things she is most passionate about. “We have found that marrying art with philanthropy is a good thing for Indonesia,” she told Handayani Tanuwijaya

Fenessa Adikoesoemo greets Prestige at her art-filled home in a neighbourhood of Senayan. Just a few moments before, we had been welcomed by two massive pieces at the front door: Robert Indiana’s “Love” and Zhu Wei’s “China China”. Together, they make a bold statement that show the owner’s love of art.

She sits comfortably in the dining room while having her makeup and hair done. “Hi,” she says warmly, all smiles. Fenessa’s petite figure sends out an aura of a young woman. But when she speaks she reveals herself as a mature, well-spoken, educated leader. She went to high school in Melbourne and obtained a Bachelor of Commerce degree from University of Melbourne.

Even before she decided to focus on art, Fenessa’s long-time passion has always been philanthropy. She has served in a variety of roles for AIESEC, the world’s largest youth-run organisation for the development of youth through experimental learning. She has also served as Human Resources Officer for Global Consulting Group, a pro bono firm in Melbourne that brings together non-profit consulting professionals and students to impact social issues around the world.

Fenessa will turn 25 this year. In spite of her youth, she clearly enjoys the challenge of running Museum Macan Foundation. She chairs the non-profit, which focuses on education through art. Its first initiative is the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN) located in Kebon Jeruk, West Jakarta. The institution is the country’s first modern and contemporary art museum. Her role is to develop the museum and ensure that its public programmes are sustainable, while the exhibitions are relevant to the regional public.

Opened last November, Museum Macan was founded by Fenessa’s father, the prominent philanthropist and art collector Haryanto Adikoesoemo. Born in Surabaya in 1962, Adikoesoemo is President Director of AKR Corporindo, a chemical and energy logistics company and property developer. He is a trustee of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, a leading voice for contemporary art and culture, in Washington, D.C.

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Museum MACAN’s interior was designed by London’s MET Studio. Its Director is Aaron Seeto, formerly Curatorial Manager of Asian and Pacific Art at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) in Brisbane, Australia. Museum MACAN’s opening exhibition, “Art Turns. World Turns”, was a big success, attracting no fewer than 130,000 visitors.

This May, the Museum is launching a much-anticipated exhibition of renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. “Yayoi Kusama: Life Is the Heart of a Rainbow” is the first large-scale exhibition of Kusama’s works in Indonesia. It showcases the development of her practice over the span of almost 70 years, beginning with early works from the 1950s. Having recently been shown at National Gallery Singapore and QAGOMA, this will be the third and final stop for the exhibition. It runs from May 12 to September 9.

“We will show 130 of Kusama’s works collected from different parts of the world, such as Australia, Singapore and Japan,” says Fenessa. “This is a collaboration of Museum MACAN with National Gallery Singapore and QAGOMA. The exhibition also coincides with the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Indonesia. I would say it’s a milestone for our country.”

A big fan of American artist James Turrell, Fenessa is now sitting in the living room, against the backdrop of a Jeff Koons’ “Balloon Dog” painting. Over in another corner are Tony Tasset’s “Dolphin Fun” and a totem by Evan Holloway, “Dodecastack”, which was previously owned by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

“Museum Macan is the realisation of a vision that my father has had for over 10 years,” says Fenessa. “He has been collecting for over 25 years and now there are 800 art pieces and counting, regulated by the Museum. I have been really lucky to have grown up with a father who is an art collector. I could follow him everywhere, such as to art auctions and galleries. As a family, we love to visit museums as much as we can when we travel.

“I am the third of five children. Of my siblings, I have always been the one who loved art the most. I actually wanted to go film school at New York University. I like photography, especially underwater photography, because I like diving as well. I would say I discovered my passion for art while at college. I took summer classes in photography and film.

“I knew when I came back to Indonesia that I wanted to do something related to art. My father had always wanted to build a museum. So when I came back from college, he had the right person to help him. We have found that marrying art with philanthropy is a good thing for Indonesia. We started building Museum MACAN in 2014 and we were very hands on from the beginning – from the construction to planning the right concept.”

Even so, they faced many difficulties, mostly because there was no large museum in the country that could be a benchmark. They frequently went overseas to learn from different institutions and bodies. Fenessa went on a three-month fellowship at the Hirshhorn Museum in 2016. She also did a five-week programme at The Guggenheim in New York last year.

“I learned how a museum work, specifically in the areas of fundraising, marketing, programming and education,” Fenessa explains. “To be honest, there was a lot of pressure at the beginning. During the first three years, we did not know what would come out of it. I was very hard on myself because I wanted it to be successful. But I was really lucky to have an amazing team. They are professional and supportive, with a great sense of teamwork. I am also lucky that my father is not really strict. He doesn’t pressure me and he has been very encouraging throughout the journey.

“The biggest lesson he has taught me is perseverance. Throughout the three years of building the museum, it wasn’t always easy. We had a couple of challenges along the road. We’re working in an environment where we don’t have support from the government, and most people here are not familiar with museums. We don’t have a lot of schools with proper art programmes, so finding the right staff was also a challenge. My father said to me: ‘Just don’t give up. If we put all of our hard work into this, eventually everything will come together at the end.’ And it has! Now we’re working hard on preparing future programmes.”

In spite of a lack of government support here, Fenessa doesn’t believe that it should be the state’s job to provide museums. “In other countries, like Australia and Singapore, the government supports the arts. In America, there are government-run museums, but there are also private foundations, such as The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The Guggenheim and The Broad.

“I do think the private sector should play a huge role in building museums. Having said that, In Indonesia, I don’t think the culture of giving back is as strong here as it is in the US. This one of the challenges we have: How can we change this mindset? But we don’t want the private sector to think: Only the government should do this. Instead, the private sector should support the art scene here and help it grow.

“People can enjoy art so easily in Australia and their government supports the growth of the cultural scene. That’s really inspiring. From a couple of roles that I took in various non-profit organisations, I met people who were so passionate about giving back. It has really shaped my mind and solidified what I want to do for my country. Knowing that what I’m doing right now is not only good for me, but also helping Indonesia, I feel really motivated. It does keep me going, despite the challenges that we face.”

In the future, Fenessa will naturally grow to become a notable art collector – just like her father. “One of the works I have bought for myself is a piece by Korean artist, Do-ho Suh. It’s a 3D ‘light switch’ made of paper that I keep in my bedroom,” she says. “What I like about art is, it is not limited to just what is right and wrong. Art helps us to be more tolerant as it transcends ethnic and language barriers. It brings people together.”

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