The early development of the Jakarta Biennale underwent various changes, consistent with the new waves surging in Indonesia during the New Order. One of the fundamental changes in the Indonesian art sphere was marked by the advent of “Black December” in 1974. This was a protest of young Indonesian artists against the established aesthetic concept adhered to by the Great Indonesian Painting Exhibition. This incident later inspired assorted art movements, such as Gerakan Seni Rupa Baru (GSRB, the New Art Movement), and propelled the need to set up new parameters for the development of Indonesian art. After 1974, the Great Indonesian Painting Exhibition took the biennial format, held every two years. In the following year the name was changed to the Biennale of Painting, until it was changed to the Jakarta Biennale in 1993 (Biennale IX), with main curator Jim Supangkat.
On that occasion, another controversy ensued because it presented a number of installation works and broke the conventional modern art standard. This incident is in fact considered a turning point in the Indonesian art world. However, painting again became a dominant presence in the Biennale X and XI held respectively in 1996 and 1998.
The Jakarta Biennale experienced a long vacuum due to the socio-political upheaval and the change of power in the Indonesian government after 1998. The exhibition only came back in 2006 as the Jakarta Biennale 2006, consisting of three expositions: “Beyond”, “Milestone”, and “The Others”. Next, the 2009 Jakarta Biennale “Arena” was the first to present an international agenda by inviting foreign artists and empowering multiple larger public participation programs. At this time the main exhibition hall of the Jakarta Biennale moved from Taman Ismail Marzuki to the National Gallery of Indonesia, which continued to the 2011 Jakarta Biennale “Maximum City”.
The 2013 Jakarta Biennale was held under the theme of “Siasat” and returned to Taman Ismail Marzuki. However, unlike before where the exhibition took place at the Cipta Gallery, JB 2013 again broke the exhibit standard by using the Jakarta Theater’s underground parking lot as its main hall. This marks JB’s experimentation, not only in the workings of the artists but also in the empowerment of Jakarta’s public space as an exhibition hall.
In 2015 the Jakarta Biennale Foundation was founded as the Jakarta Arts Council’s organizing partner. The Jakarta Biennale that year took the theme of “Neither Forward nor Back: Acting in the Present”, and presented a variety of cultural activities for the public to enjoy in order to understand the city as a domain constantly in motion, ever-changing. The main exhibition hall took place at Gudang Sarinah Ecosystem, South Jakarta. And two years later, “Jiwa”: the 2017 Jakarta Biennale was held, still at Gudang Sarinah Ecosystem throughout November to December of that year. The discussion focused on the issues surrounding fundamental human impulses that stir our senses, affects, and insights. Although appeared to be more personal, “Jiwa” sought to enrich and broaden the artistic experience and critical power of the public in understanding contemporary reality in a sublime and contemplative manners.
The Jakarta Biennale continues to roll and will be held again in 2021, carrying the theme of “Tomorrow: Building History Together” to sustain 46 years of history and engagement in the great currents of art of Indonesia and the world.