Overshadowed by the creative hubs of Java, Bandung, Jakarta and Yogyakarta, Bali is often disregarded by international art lovers and this may be due to the tourism-led commodification of art and culture. However, in the past six years, there has been significant development in the fascinating and distinct Bali art infrastructure.
Bali was not immune to the dramatic decline that occurred after 2008 with the crash of the Indonesian modern and contemporary art markets. The immediate signs of the downturn were the closure of leading contemporary art galleries Gaya in Ubud, and Kendra in Seminyak. Activities at other notable galleries Tony Raka in Ubud and, BIASA ArtSpace in Seminyak wound down as well. Only galleries financially supported by profitable hotels, namely Komaneka in Ubud, Santrian in Sanur and Ganesha in Jimbaran maintained their exhibition schedules.
During the post-boom period, the established art institutions Museum Puri Lukisan, Neka Art Museum, ARMA and Bentara Budaya Bali continued with consistent programmes. The museum exhibitions were mostly dedicated to the Ubud, Batuan, Keliki and Pengosekan traditional Schools of painting, while representing an array of artists in group and solo shows, including Ketut Madra, Wayan Darlun and Made Astawa. Significant developments in the contemporary art infrastructure occurred with the opening of artist-driven initiatives Luden House in Ubud in 2009, Cata Odata Art Space in Ubud in 2014, and Ketemu Project Space in Batubulan in 2015.
The large white bamboo installation ‘Not For Sale’ set in rice fields north of Ubud by Balinese landowner, social activist, and artists Gede Sayur and friends, quickly became a unique landmark. Committed to art with a social and environmental conscience, Sayur founded Luden as an art space and gallery. ‘Not For Sale’ evolved in 2010 in response to the alarming rate of Balinese agricultural land being sold for development and grew to become a social movement. Cata Odata focused their cross-disciplinary programmes towards emerging artists from East Java and Bali, while Ketemu’s model has a strong regional focus on programmes including artists and curators. Their July 2016 group exhibition at Sudakara Art Space, Sanur “Merayakan Murni”(Celebrating Murni), a tribute to the iconic Balinese woman artist IGAK Murniasih (1966-2006), was one of the most anticipated events that year. These initiatives provided a much-needed impetus for the art community.
Developments within the traditional art world were the formation of new collectives Baturlangun in Batuan village and the Werdi Jana Kerti Artists Association in Keliki. Strong leadership dedicated to regeneration of the styles has led to exciting new talent emerging from both of these villages in recent years such as Wayan Aris Sarmanta and Wayan Budiarta from Batuan and Putu Kusuma and Putu Adi from Keliki. Baturlangun’s first exhibition at ARMA in 2012 featured works by emerging, established, and senior artists, including women. Since 2006 Larasati Auctioneers has established an international forum for the trade of high-quality Balinese art, providing strong support in developing the market. Two yearly auctions are held in Ubud, which expanded to three sales in 2019.
‘Kayu’ a new alternative platform for Indonesian and international contemporary art, opened in 2014, at Rumah Topeng Dan Wayang Setia Dharma (House of Masks & Puppets), in Mas, Ubud. Curated by Ubud based Italian artist Marco Cassani, ‘Kayu’ is an exhibition series that is a part of a global initiative by Lucie Fontaine for the exchange of information and knowledge between the global art world.
One of the most significant inclusions in the infrastructure TiTian Art Space, after three years in Jalan Bisma, this October moved to larger, more accessible premises in Nyuh Kunning, Ubud. An artist incubator nurturing emerging talent to become art entrepreneurs, it was established by the TiTian Bali Foundation and the vision of Balinese art and entrepreneurial expert Soemantri Widagdo. The annual TiTian Prize, with sections for children and adult, has quickly attracted the island’s finest talent to participate, propelling the winners Nyoman Arisana and Wayan Aris Sarmanta, into the national spotlight. The recent exhibition “Mahardika” 19 October – 1 December featured works by Wayan Sadu, Nyoman Bratayasa and Kadek Kusuma Yasa.
Bali’s rapidly evolving street art movement is transforming the streets of urban and rural Bali. Swiss urban art enthusiast Julien Thorax opened the gallery and art supplies shop in Canggu, ALLCAPS Store, in 2015. A vibrant sub-culture of social media savvy millennials, and national and international street artists now thrive in the Canggu – Berawa Beach area.
An exhibition highlight of 2019 ‘Drawing Bali Today’ 10 October – 10 November at Sika Gallery, Ubud revealed developments within the context of Balinese technical painting by emerging and mid-career artists. Such developments have been a response to the ‘Neo Pitimaha’ art movement, established in 2013 by art provocateurs Gede Mahendra Yasa and Kemal Ezedine, who have been hosting events and exhibitions in Bali and Java from 2016. The movement reinterprets Balinese traditional technical painting from a contemporary art perspective – retaining the principles involved with the techniques and methods. By opening this to new viewpoints they awakened a new spirit and introduced a fresh model of possibilities into Balinese art. Ezedine has recently been proactive with exhibitions with some of the core members of the movement, while his “Drawing Lab”, continues on with the Neo Pitamaha ideals influencing the mindset of young Balinese painters.
In just as few years CushCush Gallery, a dynamic and highly active multi-disciplinary platform open in July 2016 in Denpasar and founded by Suriawati Qiu and Jindee Chua, has become the most vital addition to the infrastructure, next to TiTian. An art and design hub dedicated to supporting the many local and international creatives and communities in and around the city, the breadth of their annual DenPasar event, which began in 2017, is always fresh and inspiring.
An international standard exhibition space and contemporary art exhibition has finally arrived in Bali. The major drive for both initiatives that opened late 2018, however, comes from Java. ART • BALI, the exhibition this year in its second edition, and the purpose-built AB • BC Building in Nusa Dua, funded by BEKRAF the Agency for Creative Economy Indonesia, are exciting developments of a global art calibre upon the art landscape.
Heri Pemad Management from Yogyakarta introduced their ‘ArtJog’ model, highlighting Indonesian contemporary artists with invited internationals. The annual ‘Bali Masters’ exhibition was first held in March 2019; its second edition is due early 2020. External direction over locally based management, and Javanese curators, however, may not be the best mode of capitalizing on Bali’s distinct artistic character and presenting it on the international stage. ‘Balinese Masters: Aesthetic DNA Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art’ featured an array of strong work, the show suffered, however, from confusing curatorial objectives, beginning with a puzzling title, and then including too much work without the benefit of a practical chronological order allowing it to be easily read and understood by the audience.
Tony Raka Art Gallery now merges tribal art with the contemporary, along with the ‘Art Lounge’ activated a few years ago. The venue has recently grown to include the ‘Creative Space’, an expansive event facility at the rear of his gallery. Open 2016 Nyaman Gallery in Seminyak has quickly made its mark, while evolving to include workshop facilities. Uma Seminyak, a new display space open 2017 highlights emerging Balinese and Indonesian contemporary artists and designers. BIASA ArtSpace has revamped its vision with the new BIASACube, an exhibition space within their Kerobokan boutique open early 2018, and another space BIASA Ubud opened late last year, next door to their boutique in Sanggingan.
Government support for modern and contemporary art is entering a new era. Gurat Art Project, an arm of the research and curatorial initiative Garut Institute, with the aid of the Badung Regency Administration, has been presenting events now since 2017. The 2019 five-year appointment of artist Dr Wayan Kun Adnyana as the Director of the Cultural Office of Provincial Bali has had an immediate impact ‘Bali Megarupa’ (10 October – 10 November) which featured 103 artists exhibiting at ARMA, Museum Puri Lukisan, Neka Art Museum and Bentara Budaya Bali Cultural Center. “Bali Megarupa” will continue annually for five years with the intention of becoming a yearly long-term fixture on the Bali art calendar consolidated by Provincial law.
2019 closed with two more significant additions to the Bali art infrastructure – Ubud Diary a new gallery opened 30 November with a group exhibition of Ubud School paintings and a book launch “Ubud Diary: Celebrating the Ubud School of Painting – the Diversity of the Visual Language”. Ubud Diary’s mission is to create a new awareness to the historically significant, yet declining Ubud School. BATU Art Space, a Space For Contemporary Art Collection and Research at the House of Masks & Puppets in Mas, Ubud opened 7 December highlighted by “Manifesto” an exhibition by leading Australian artist Sally Smart.
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Words and Images, unless specified: Richard Horstman