Published: April 25, 2017
John Strusinski has been a collector and dealer of tribal and Asian art for more than 40 years. After extensive travels throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and Oceania, he set up base in Jogyakarta, Central Java, in 1976. For many years he searched the Indonesian Archipelago for art from tribal sources and Hindu-Buddhist Court cultures. John established Primary Source in 1989 as a gallery and warehouse in Los Angeles. His broad and eclectic inventory includes masks, sculptures, jewelry, ceramics, textiles, armaments, furniture and architectural elements from Indonesia, Southeast Asia, Africa and Papua New Guinea. Primary Source is at 4847 Jefferson Avenue in Los Angeles. For further information, www.primarysourcearts.com or 323-732-6131.
What was the first piece that caught your eye and why? And is there a favorite piece in your collection that you will never sell?
The first memorable tribal art object that made an impression on me was a war club, called an Uu Uu, from the French Polynesian Marquesas Islands. I saw it in the Brooklyn Museum when I was 12 years old. I didn’t realize until I was 55 years old how important that piece was to my destiny. It took that long to understand the initial importance of my captivation by that object. I became an antiquaire because of that anthropomorphic club. The French word, antiquaire, means a person who makes his living from buying and selling art; is an expert in a specific art field; is passionate and obsessive about art; has a life style of total art involvement.
My favorite piece, in our collection, is an architectural gable plaque of an ancestor with horns from the Batak tribe of North Sumatra. The Batak believe that their first ancestors came out of the saliva of this mythological composite deity. It is carved from one element of hardwood and is monumental at 6 feet tall. I traveled from Java by boat for two days to Medan, North Sumatra, to get it but was 30 minutes too late. A famous Dutch photographer based in Jakarta had just purchased it. Twenty years later it was sold to a doctor in Los Angeles who was my client, an important collector of tribal and modern art and upon his death, his widow sold it to me as a courtesy because she knew my story with the piece and my profound love for it. After 30 years I got it. Whenever I am in the gallery and look at it I become transformed by its pharaonic gaze.
In your gallery, do you aim to represent a wealth of styles and regions or do you have a specialty?
Primary Source is specialized in the art and antiques of the Indonesian Archipelago. We have been providing museums with textiles, sculpture, jewelry and ethnographic items from both tribal and Hindu-Buddhist cultures for decades. In addition, we supply the interior design trade with genuine ethnographic accessories, furniture, landscape art and ancient ceramics. We have a large inventory of old hardwood bowls in many various forms and origins. Antiques ceramics from China, Vietnam and Thailand from the Fourteenth-Nineteenth Centuries that are found in Indonesia are also a specialty which we gather with passion.
How has the market changed for tribal arts since you started more than 40 years ago? What genres in the market are driving the market now and who is buying?
When we started over 40 years ago the Louvre in Paris did not own one tribal sculpture and the Dallas Museum of Art didn’t have any Indonesian tribal art. Today, tribal art is accepted as an important artistic contribution of peoples of ancient tradition. There are now wood sculpture from Africa and Oceania that sell for millions of dollars. That was unheard of 40 years ago. Top-quality specimens are now selling for the prices they truly deserve, it just took 40 years.
What is one thing about you that surprises people?
In the gallery people are most surprised when they meet my 29-year-old son, Oreon, and myself together. He is a professional photographer and surfer raised in Bali. He speaks Indonesian, Dutch and English. He does all the still photography for our business besides doing marine subjects for the fine art photography part of his career. We also sell his marine landscapes in our gallery. They are amazed that he is so calm and quiet when compared to me. They always look at him and then me and say how different we appear. I love our differences in temperament because we both feed off of each other’s unique gifts. He runs at a slower speed because he was raised on the beach in Bali. I was born in Manhattan and raised in Brooklyn and am still looking for the fastest way to get somewhere.
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