Woman of the World
In a world dominated by men, former art dealer Jais Darga proves that she can excel in her own way. Anastasia Wibowo writes
The name jais darga is familiar to many art aficionados and collectors in Indonesia and even overseas. The former art dealer is known to be the pioneer in the world of art dealership— she was the first Indonesian woman to make it big on the international stage, particularly in Paris and New York, where she used to live.
Last April, Jais proudly launched her autobiography, entitled Jais Darga Namaku. The 517-page tome, authored by Ahda Imran, recounts the journey of Jais’s dynamic life as an international art dealer for more than 30 years. She admits that she became an art dealer by accident. “When I was young, I wasn’t into art. I could not draw or paint until high school,” Jais says.
A rebel at heart, Jais credits her circle of friends for her interest in art. During her tertiary education, Jais befriended a group of free-spirited artists to whom she related. “I think that school was not for me. I never studied art formally, and I preferred to learn and discuss directly from the pros,” Jais admits.
In the beginning, Jais used to buy paintings from her friends. One day, a Parisian friend admired a painting in her house and offered to buy it, and so it began—later, she decided to become a professional art dealer in the early 1980s. She established Darga Gallery in Sanur in Bali. After Jakarta and Bali, she then widened her market scope to Singapore and Australia in the early 1990s.
“At that time and even until now it has been difficult to survive as a female art dealer in this male-dominated industry. People also tend to look down upon Asian people,” Jais says, revealing the challenges she faces. But she did not intend to give up, and even cast her eyes towards the world’s centre of art—paris.
Jais recalls that in 1995, at Tajan Auction at George V Hotel in Paris, she bid too high for a painting by Tsuguharu Foujita. She bid at 800,000 francs—at the top of the market price. The next day, fellow art dealers were waiting for her at the hotel lobby, complete with their cars and drivers.
At the top of her game, Jais tirelessly worked non-stop for almost 24 hours daily, meeting clients and going to auctions and exhibitions to hunt for the perfect masterpieces. When she had to contact her clients in New York and Paris, she had to stay up all night due to the time difference.
“I am a very focused person: I stick to my plans and schedules,” Jais says, “My daughter, Magali, and my ex-husband used to complain about it, because they wanted to spend quality time with me.”
Her favourite painting? “I cannot say. But, if you ask me which are worth collecting, I would say [Henri] Matisse and [Joan] Miró.”
The mum-of-one, who once co-owned Lansberg Galerie in Paris with her ex-husband Pascal Lansberg, now enjoys her retirement in Bali. “I am done with serious work and establishing a new gallery. Right now, I just want to go wherever my feet take me.” She further adds, “I would gladly support any emerging artists, especially the female ones.”
At the end of our talk, Jais gives us a few tips for aspiring art dealers out there. “The most important thing is trust. Clients have to trust us. We also have to be smart, confident, and have broad insights,” Jais explains. “I honestly feel God truly blesses my life.”