Arts |

The Evolving Art World: An Interview with Deborah Iskandar

Arts | 10 September 2021

Deborah Iskandar is a veteran of many years in the high-pressure art auction world and is now the principal of ISA Art Advisory, which advises clients on buying and selling art and building collections, and the founder of Indonesian Luxury, the definitive online resource for Indonesians looking to acquire, build and style their luxury homes. A self-confessed art addict and a serious collector herself, Deborah is the perfect person to update us on the art world.

How has the pandemic affected the art world, what has changed? Are you still able to do business?

At ISA we have been active throughout the pandemic. Starting in July 2020 we had our first online show entitled “Corporal / Material” an exhibition of performances art and photography. This type of exhibit works well online, as there is no visual difference between photographs on-screen and off-screen. In the 21st century, many artworks are collected based on PDF, and not via actual viewing so I think the pandemic forced people to look online. The western art market maintained the momentum as collectors were not travelling and had more time to read and explore. But in Indonesia, it was much slower. 

How has the market changed? Is there now a virtual marketplace?   

The art market has shifted from auctions to art fairs. The rise of the art fair in the last 10 years has led to many new collectors entering the market, especially with Art Jakarta and Art Moments.  Both fairs were virtual, but in 2 different formats and did result in selling artworks online so that will be the future to augment in-person attendance. 

Where are the buyers now? Has that changed?

It depends on how you look at the market, but Korea has a very strong collector base both domestically as well as international. That would be followed by China. South-East Asian collectors are very distant from North Asians, but on the regional market, Indonesia and the Philippines have a growing domestic collector base and fosters cross-country collecting. 

What do you think will happen to art prices over the next 12 months?  

Prices are steady, and I think contemporary Indonesian art is a very good collecting area. The prices for young artists are very “price-friendly”, you can acquire a good work for a few thousand dollars, so it can only go up. Many of these young artists have studied overseas so their practice and thought process is aligned with western art practices, so I don’t think you can go wrong. But, most important art is meant to be enjoyed!

Who is doing well? Are there some exciting new artists emerging? 

Some of the big names are Sinta Tantra, an Indonesian artist of Balinese descent based in London. She has been active during the crisis. Of the young artists, there is a performance and textile artist, Alexander Sebastianus who has been on the radar of young collectors. We opened a show entitled “SuperNova” during July / Aug. This was a show of Aaron Taylor Kuffner, an American artist that creates these artworks based on gamelan, and Jompet, an Indonesian installation artist. 

Will people go back to galleries after this is over?  

Of course, we are seeing a lot of new collectors in the market, and first and foremost they are looking for Indonesian art. In 2021 we’ve opened 2 new gallery spaces, one in Wisma 46, which is a “white cube” space in a very public area. These makes are a lot more accessible. We were actually trending on “Tik-Tok” with our first new show with a lot of young students and millennials who wanted the opportunity to look at art. 

Is art still a good thing to invest in?

Absolutely, and the return is not measured just from a financial point of view, but also from an aesthetic point of view. Art is meant to be enjoyed - and you make money, it’s a bonus. 

What do you think of the NFT phenomenon?

NFT is very hot and speculative at the moment, but it is here to stay. It is just a different medium. The art of the 21st century is moving towards digital, very few people “paint” anymore. So I think it will slow down, and people will be able to analyze the NFT art created on its own merit. With NFT, it's not traditional artists that are creating the artworks, but tech people and graphic designers. The artworld is becoming very “fluid” so how do you define art? That is the 21st-century question and art never stops changing and evolving. 

Jl. Wijaya Timur Raya No.12 Kebayoran. Baru,
12170 Jakarta, Indonesia
+62 21 723 3905


The famous Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso once said “Give me a museum and I will fill it.” When Deborah first started as a finance lawyer collecting art at the young age of 26, she knew that art was her museum and she wanted to fill her whole life in it. The first cut is always the deepest and most memorable. Her curiosity for art began when she bought her first painting as a successful banker at an exhibition in Hong Kong. Since then, she never looked back and, having studied Russian in university, started to collect non-conformists art from the former Soviet Union. After moving to Indonesia in 1991, she officially entered the art world in 1996 by opening Christies, the first auction house in Indonesia. She later moved to Sotheby’s before branching out on her own. As a senior player in the art industry, in 2013 she dived into an entirely different spectrum of art; both on the technology side together with art consulting. She’s finally come full circle earlier this year by opening ISA Art and Design, an online and offline gallery.

She notes that the fun of being both an art collector and gallery owner is that as a gallery owner, you are always looking at what’s new in the market and the new young artists and as a collector, she is still building her collection by supporting the young artists through personal acquisitions. One of the missions of the Gallery is the promotion of women artists. In this vein, she and her team noticed the lack of woman artists appreciated and acknowledged within the industry and means to focus on such amazing figures in her Gallery such as representing Indonesian diaspora artists in their ‘other’ home country in forms of multimedia and performing arts. ISA Art and Design also emphasize new media artists and is the third pillar of a thriving secondary market.

Integrating the soul of an art piece into the design to provide more vivacious energy. Quoting Deborah, “Most people did not design their house or offices for art. I always design my house for art and want to share the same spirit with others. You must love what you do to perceive your job as a part of your life”. Hence, ISA Art curating their online and offline shows meticulously to serve the artwork on a luxurious platter.

Especially during serious times such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Deborah and ISA Art & Design opts to digitalize art galleries as even online exhibitions should be viewed as the physical place to display the artwork. To Deborah, collecting and displaying one’s art is not of mere coincidence but is a piece that will stay forever in its medium and generating more meaning even than the price itself. To acknowledge each art as its own masterpiece and finding its home to the rightful collectors requires passion, commitment, and strategic market analysis. Deborah is and always will be the pioneer for providing luxurious art and hopes that this concept transcends into generations.