Eliza O’Donnell

Eliza O’Donnell (PhD in Cultural Materials Conservation, 2024), The Painting is Broken: Understanding Issues of Authenticity and Art Attribution in Contemporary Indonesia

The circulation of counterfeit paintings in the Indonesian art centres is a sensitive issue that threatens the cultural record and intellectual property of artists and their legacy. Since the beginning of Indonesia’s first art market boom in the late 1980s, paintings falsely attributed to prominent modern and contemporary Indonesian artists have slid into the secondary art market, changing hands through auction houses, galleries, art dealers and private transactions. While the unauthorised use of intellectual property that infringes on the copyright of the artist is a pervasive and longstanding issue in Indonesia, as it is globally, the study of painting attribution from a conservation perspective is limited.

This thesis employs an interdisciplinary methodology grounded in cross-cultural engagement, technical art history, archival research, and interviews with art world practitioners, to investigate the relationship between the booming art market and the circulation of counterfeit paintings falsely attributed to Indonesian artists. Reviewing current approaches for art attribution in Indonesia, this thesis asks, how is painting authenticity understood in the Indonesian context? This question is examined across six themed chapters focusing on: 1) terminology, 2) the Indonesian copyright framework, 3) the art market, 4) art market processes, 5) art archives and 6) technical art history. An interdisciplinary and cross-cultural approach to this study enabled a nuanced exploration of knowledge representation, verification, and the societal implications of painting forgery in the Javanese arts communities of Yogyakarta, Jakarta and Bandung where this research is located.

Key findings drawn from artist interviews, archival sources and technical art history highlight the extent to which contemporary living artists, in addition to the twentieth-century modern masters, have been victims of art fraud, from the early 1990s until today. These findings demonstrate the tangible impact of forgery on the individuals who are affected when counterfeit works are produced and traded. This study seeks to elucidate the strategies that contemporary Indonesian artists have adopted to protect themselves from intellectual property theft in the absence of a robust copyright framework, and examines integrated approaches to building secure artist records and archives for future studies of attribution.

Overall, this thesis underscores the pressing need for interdisciplinary collaboration and ongoing discourse to address the particular challenges posed by painting forgery in the Indonesian art market. Inauthentic cultural material is harmful to Indonesian artists, communities, and the cultural record, and finding effective and empowering ways to manage this issue is of great interest to artists, curators, art historians, conservators and others. Painting forgery in Indonesia, and in the global art world, is an active and ongoing issue, and current understanding is continually evolving as new evidence is brought to light. This thesis is a scholarly contribution to advancing existing knowledge on art attribution and authenticity in Indonesia, deepening collective knowledge of the complexities inherent in the Indonesian art world and its broader implications for the global art community.

Supervisors: Associate Professor Nicole Tse and Professor Robyn Sloggett (Grimwade), Associate Professor Edwin Jurriëns (Asia Institute)