Meet the Indonesian Art Collector With the Midas Touch

Candra Malik | July 16, 2010

Curator and art collector Oei Hong Djien, one of the most influential people in the Indonesian art scene, in front of a piece from his collection, which includes works by such masters as Affandi, Lee Man Fong and Popo Iskandar. (JG Photos/Candra Malik)Curator and art collector Oei Hong Djien, one of the most influential people in the Indonesian art scene, in front of a piece from his collection, which includes works by such masters as Affandi, Lee Man Fong and Popo Iskandar. (JG Photos/Candra Malik)
Oei Hong Djien is a prominent curator who is renowned for his extensive art collection, and his enormous influence on Indonesia’s art scene. Over the years, the self-taught art expert has collected close to 1,500 paintings, some of which he now exhibits at his Semarang home gallery ­— the OHD Museum of Modern and Contemporary Indonesian Art — as well as at a space at a defunct tobacco warehouse in the Tengkon area of the Central Java capital.

According to Deddy Irianto, an art gallery owner in Magelang, Central Java, Djien is one of the most respected art connoisseurs in Indonesia because of his almost unfailing taste and sharp eye.

“Any painting or painter that he picks becomes a trendsetter in the art scene here. He has the Midas touch,” said the owner of the Magelang-based Langgeng Gallery. “He’s close to Indonesia’s maestros, such as Affandi, Sudjojono, Kwee Ing Tjiong and Widayat, who gave birth to our contemporary art scene. That’s probably the source of his wealth of knowledge about fine art.” 

Born in Magelang in 1939, Djien said that he was lucky enough to grow up in a family that had a passion for art. Djien’s father was an art connoisseur who collected paintings from Dutch artists and early Indonesian painters. The artworks were displayed at the house where Djien grew up, and his extended family shared the same passion. 

“Art was an integral part of my family life. That’s probably the most valid reason to explain why I chose to work in art rather than in the medical world,” he said. 

Djien graduated from the University of Indonesia’s School of Medicine in 1964 and went to Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen in the Netherlands in 1968 to study a specialty. 

But he never practiced medicine, instead taking over the family’s tobacco business when his father passed away. It took Djien years to find what he refers to as his “destiny.” 

The former member of the Board of Directors of the Singapore Art Museum and Art Retreat says he began from nothing and used to have “bad taste” in paintings. “I bought cheap paintings in the beginning and started to learn from them,” he said, adding that he had lots of help along the way from his artist friends who provided him with an art education. 

Dijen’s reputation has grown by leaps and bounds since his early encounters with cheap paintings and reproductions. And today, he says, he enjoys his passion. 

“Working for art gives me the luxury of time to explore places in Indonesia, from Jakarta to other cities, to hunt for paintings by great painters or open art exhibitions at galleries or museums,” he said. 

Dijin’s impressive collection includes masterpieces by maestros such as Affandi, Sudjojono, Srihadi Sudarsono, Hendra Gunawan, Lee Man Fong, Ahmad Sadali, Widayat, Popo Iskandar, AD Pirous and Nyoman Gunarsa, as well as the works of more contemporary artists such as Nasirun, Entang Wiharso, Pupuk DP, Eddie Hara, Heri Dono, Agus Suwage, Ugo Untoro, Nyoman Masriadi, Dedi Paw, Rudi Mantofani and Yuswantoro Adi. 

While some Web sites, including Wikipedia, say that Djien owns works by world-famous painters such as Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and Rembrandt, he flatly denies the claims. 

“Those Web site reports need to be clarified. I only have reproductions of their works. Where would I get the money to buy those super-expensive paintings?” he said. “If I visit art museums in Europe, I always take time to stop at the museum shop to buy posters of works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and other world-class painters.” 

Dijen also denies owning more than 10,000 thousand paintings, another claim that can be found on Wikipedia. 

“Where did Wikipedia get this? I have collected no more than 1,500 paintings,” he said, laughing. 

Acutely aware of the cultural value of his collection, Djien does not sell any of the pieces that he owns. However, he is known to be generous, giving away paintings as birthday or wedding gifts. 

For more information about the prominent curator’s influence on Indonesia’s art scene, read “Exploring Modern Indonesian Art: The Collection of Dr Oei Hong Djien” by internationally acclaimed Indonesian historian and art expert Helena Spanjaard









OHD Museum

OHD Museum is a modern and contemporary art museum owned by dr Oei Hong Djien (OHD). As a well-known art collector, curator, honorary-advisor to Singapore Art Museum, dr Oei Hong Djien started his collections in early 1970s.

Currently, with a vast collection of more than 2000 artworks, ranging from paintings, sculptures, installations and ceramics from different time periods, OHD Museum is located on Jalan Jenggolo 14, in the city of Magelang Central Java – Indonesia.