Category Archives: Indonesian Art History

Genevieve Couteau: the French female virtuoso that Bali art historians failed to cite

Huile sur toile le théâtre d'ombres 130-97 encadre                                 Painting by Genevieve Couteau

 

Volumes have been written about the foreign artists who have visited, lived and worked on the island of Bali during the first half of the 20th century. Walter Spies, Rudolf Bonnet and Theo Meier are celebrated icons, while Hofker, Covarrubias and La Mayeur are all praised for their special talents. These artists, however, are all male.

French female artist Genevieve Couteau first visited Bali in 1968 and was immediately fascinated by the island’s lush tropical environment and the rich culture, and immediately set forth exploring and reinterpreting the beauty she perceived. Returning briefly four years later, and again in 1975 when she resided in Ubud for 6 months, she made several other sojourns up until 1984. Even though Couteau’s creativity was phenomenal and she was the only European female artist to visit Bali, she is one important person the art historians have failed to cite.

Balinese priest sketch by Geneieve Couteau                       Sketch of Balinese Priest by Genevieve Couteau

 

Art inspired by post-war Universalism represents the period 1945 -1970. Its ideology is underpinned by a rejection of reality and nationalism – the type of patriotism that prevailed in Europe, the UK and America during the 1930s – 1940s. It emphasized a greater worldview with a focus upon understanding people from other cultures. Asians were seen as offering other, mysterious access to the spiritual realms. It was not the “exotic difference” that mattered – it was the exploring of different types of universal endeavour. The art genre idealized “the other”, while surpassing the prejudices.

Born in Paris in 1924 Couteau was a star graduate from Beaux Arts, the Art College of Nantes-Métropole with a national and international reputation. Her outstanding talent was quickly recognized by the art establishment when she won the Prix Lafont Noir et Blanc (Lafont Black and White Award) in 1952 with her captivating drawings in the surrealism style. She became a noted figure of the Paris art scene aged in her mid thirties.

"Barong Landung" - Geneieve Couteau                                 Barong Landung – Genevieve Couteau

 

It was in the Southeast Asia, however, where Couteau’s creativity ultimately bloomed. Her opportunity arose to travel and experience the treasures of the East first visiting Laos in 1968 during the Vietnam War upon the invitation of the neutralist Prime Minister of the time.

Later that year she ventured to Bali. Both countries had a major impact upon Couteau, the vivid colours and light, the overwhelming sense of the spiritual, and the gentle natured people.

Couteau’s ouvre developed from pencil, charcoal and pastel sketches to oil paintings in subtle colours, or in her dynamic, fauvism inspired palate. Her compositions progressed, some into complex, futuristic works of the universal totality of nature revealing the sparkling cosmos, men and women depicted in harmony, and stunning landscapes with backgrounds of flowing patterns, similar to exotic textiles and batiks. Abstract and surreal elements were always key to the strength of her larger compositional works.

Geneieve Couteau (1925 - 2013)                                         Genevieve Couteau

 

Couteau’s depictions of the Balinese, especially the woman challenged the stereotypes, presenting distinct messages without an agenda. Her woman’s worldview resonated with humanism, was non-sexual, while understanding and accepting dissimilarities and highlighting equality of identity. Couteau reconfigured the visual narrative regarding women who are often misinterpreted or unacknowledged. Her feminine approach never exploited the beauty of a woman’s body.

Her painterly responses to Bali’s potent, unseen worlds are indeed intriguing. What prevailed was her unrivalled ability to capture the ‘spiritual’. Couteau’s magical scenarios and figurations glow with an unusual, yet distinct atmosphere – her otherworldly creatures often gaze out from the canvas with mysterious, shamanic eyes. Some of her impressions of Balinese characters stand alone within a historical descriptive context. In “The Old Lempad” depicting the famous architect and modern art master I Gusti Nyoman Lempad (1862? – 1978), he appears as an alien-like figure, in an after life manifestation. Her portrait of the extraordinary young painter Made Sukada (1945-1982) depicts a face beaming with love, intelligence and light, his glowing eyes reveal the presence of a wise and old soul.

Balinese woman and child - Geneieve Couteau                       Balinese Woman and Child – Genevieve Couteau

 

Attuning with the metaphysical forces and pure potential her work stylistically evolved – transcending into the mystical. Her depictions, real and imagined, of Bali life in her fresh and fascinating manner distinguished her from the acclaimed painters who preceded her, along with her peers, defining her as one of the most outstanding expatriate artists on Bali.

Couteau exhibited extensively from 1960 – 2000, in Italy, France, Germany, Greece, Switzerland, Vietnam, New York and Bali. Her talents extended to writing books and theatre, designing and making sets and costumes for performances. In a tribute to the visionary artist who passed away in Paris in 2013, seventy of Couteau’s works were displayed at the National Gallery of Indonesia, in Jakarta, early in 2018.

Geneieve Couteau                                Painting by Genevieve Couteau

 

Entitled “The Orient and Beyond” her exhibition was a collaboration with Institut Francais Indonesia. Couteau’s works are collected by museums in Paris, Lyon, Berlin, Venice, Bulgaria and one of her beautiful Bali inspired paintings is on permanent exhibition in Ubud at the Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA).

Sketch by Geneieve Couteau                             Sketch by Genevieve Couteau

 

Painting by Geneieve Couteau

 

Oil on canvas painting by Geneieve Couteau                                      Paintings by Genevieve Couteau

 

 

Words:     Richard Horstman

Images:   Courtesy of Jean Couteau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“BALINESE MASTERS” exhibition presents significant insights into the development of Balinese painting

"Essence of Void' 2019 - Wayan Sika, image Richard Horstman                           Essence of Void, 2019 – Wayan Sika

 

Balinese Masters: Aesthetic DNA Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art, an ongoing presentation in Bali of installations, paintings, sculptures, drawings and objects by thirty-four Balinese artists and communities has opened to the delight, as well as the scrutiny of many in the Bali and Indonesian art worlds.

The highly anticipated exhibition, open 25 May at the AB•BC (Art Bali•Bali Collection) Building, Nusa Dua, is the first of a landmark three part annual exhibition series that endevours to define the historical developement of the Balinese visual arts. The AB•BC Building, a purpose built, international standard presentation space established by BEKRAF, the Indonesian Agency of Creative Economy, was opened in October 2018 after two years of planning.

"Mother's Earth's Love" 2018 - Ketut Budiana. Image Richard Horstman                             Mother Earth’s Love, 2018 – Ketut Budiana

 

Balinese art was one of the key Indonesian cultural icons promoted to the global market during the Suharto’s government 1970s development of mass tourism. It’s unique historical and artisitic distinctions have been, however, overshadowed by its commodification which began in the 1930s during the first wave of foreign tourists to visit the island. Balinese art has remained largely unappreciated, while being maligned as tourist, ‘folk art’.

The importance of presenting an international standard exhibition to a global and local audience in Bali, explaining the distinct development and essence of Balinese art can not be overstated. The enormous task bestowed upon respected curator Rifky Effendy from Bandung, West Java, is to capture this as a type of chronological reading so it may be easily comprehended.

"Wajah Wajah Mengambang" 2019 - Made Djirna Photo Richard Horstman                    Wajah Wajan Mengambang, 2019 – Made Djirna

 

Effendy’s curatorial text states: “Through this exhibition we can highlight various aesthetic and artistic achievements of Balinese artists, both [those] who are still residing on the island and those who live outside it. It is an attempt to examine and narrate the practice of creating fine arts in Bali without subscribing to those conventional methods based on categorization, paradigm, art history, or any other ‘constraining’ means.”

An essential communative facet of this exhibition is the accompanying wall texts written by local and international academics, collectors, curators and experts presented along side some of the works explaining certain stylistic developments, along with the impact of influenual art collectives, individuals and events. The significance of studying the paintings along with reading these texts must be emphasized as a guide to help in the understanding of such an enormous and distinctive art history.

"Cili Uang Kepeng" 1995 - I Nyoman Tusan, image R. Horstman                         Cili Uang Kepeng, 1995 – Nyoman Tusan

 

One of the great challenges faced by Effendy, who has been assisted by renowned scholars, experts and artists Agung Rai, Jean Couteau, Hardiman Adiwinata, Edmondo Zanolini, I Made Aswino Aji , Satya Cipta, I Wayan Sujana Sukl and Soemantri Widagdo, was to access master artworks from the definitive 1930 – 1945 era of the influential Pitamaha artist’s collective, and earlier Classical works, from institutions and private art collections. The enormous time and energy required to do this therefore deemed it impossible to begin this three part series at the chronological start of its development. Balinese Masters: Aesthetic DNA Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art, begins its visual description from 1950.

Excellent examples of how Balinese art has evolved aesthetically post 1950s may be seen in Mother Earth’s Love, 2018 by Ketut Budiana who took Balinese painting on his own innovative path by transforming the philosphies behind the Balinese religious and folk tale narratives into a unique visual language. All forms depicted within this gold and Chinese ink on canvas composition are in a continual the process of change – transfroming from the ether into the tiniest of vapors which eventually changes into denser physical matter (Budiana’s figures) and then completes the eternal cycle and returns back into the invisible.

"Cosmic Energy" 2019 - Wayan Karja Image Richard Horstman                          Cosmic Energy, 2019 – Wayan Karja

 

The second signature style of the most critically acclaimed genre of Balinese painting – the Batuan School – is featured in the works by Made Budi and Wayan Bendi. The original style which developed in the 1930s relatively free of outside influences. It involved religious and folk tale themes and others close to the heart and mind of the people’s daily life. Often dark and frigntening, including magic, power and ritual, they were expressed in black ink tones on paper. The Miniaturist School of the 1970s was created by the artists Jata, Rajin and Murtika, Budi’s modern themes, under the influence of American photographer Leonard lueras, introduced beach scenes and surfing.

Bendi went further and introduced politics and his enormous Untitled, 2013 stretches nearly ten meters wide, a composition encompassing a universal perspective, reflecting a modern, bustling Bali with the multi ethnic and religious peoples, of tourists, and the transfromational technologies, side-by-side with scenes of traditional Bali.

"Gugusan Energi Alam Batin 6.14.4.019" 2019 - Putu Wirantawan - photo Richard Horstman       Gugusan Energi Alam Batin 6.14.4.019, 2019 – Putu Wirantawan

 

The poineer of Balinese painting within the modern western framework was I Nyoman Tusan (1933-2002) who was the first to study modern art (1945-1962) at Institute of Technology in Bandung (ITB), West Java and later in Belguim. Cili Uang Kepeng,1995 by the intellectual, lecturer and official typifies his modern approach to Balinese ritual objects. I Nyoman Gunarsa (1949 – 2017) also made important contributions to the modern expressions of Balinese icongraphy taking the static and rigid wayang figurations of the Classical paintings and transforming them into dynamic forms with his modern action style of painting. Unfortunately, his displayed works are not his strongest.

Contemporary art sensibilities mixed with Balinese philosophies, symbols and incongraphy when landmark works were made in the 1970s by the pioneers of the Sanggar Dewata Indonesia (SDI) collective – Made Wianta, Nyoman Erawan and Made Djirna, works from this era were not included, but more recent works are. A complete alternative in the exhibitions aesthetics is Djirna’s commanding installaion of more than two thousand pumice stone carved faces Wajah Wajha Mengambang, 2019 which takes observers into different experiential dimensions. Others recent artists that should be mentioned for their achievements within the development of aesthetics are Gede Mahendra Yasa and Putu Wirantawan. Gugusan Energi Alam Batin 6.14.4.019, 2019, is a fascinating and eye-catching installation of pencil and pen sketches by Wirantawan.

"Aktifas Kehidupan" 1984 Made Budi                         Aktifas Kehidupan, 1984 – Made Budi

 

Balinese painting from the Classical and the new more westernized styles that appeared in the 1930s (the Batuan, Ubud and Sanur Schools being the foremost) is characterized by its story-telling function with the aesthetic features of a graphic-drawing based style of art with the space of the canvas fully occupied with the layering of patternations. The big shift away from this that occurred has been to a modern, non-narrative, non-patterned color based abstract style of painting where abstraction represents Hindu symbolism.

The powerful and beautiful mixed media works by Wayan Sika, one an installation of nine paintings The Essence of the Void, 2019 measuring 600 x 360 cms, and the smaller No Ego, 2019, along with two magnificent pulsating compositions by Wayan Karja, both titled Cosmic Energy, 2019, are very important inclusions and highlight the important shift that has not been clearly underlined in the exhibition. The title of the exhibition may be somewhat of a misnomer, and one may wonder what is the criteria that determines how the participants have been selected, especially some of the younger artists and the art communities. Due to the vast scope of content the presentation would benefit from, upon entry, instructions on how to read the exhibition.

"School of (pre) Raphael, 2018 - Gede Mahendra Yasa Image R. Horstman                     School of (Pre) Raphael, 2018 – Gede Mahendra Yasa

 

Balinese Masters: Aesthetic DNA Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art is a beauitful presentation celebrating this fascinating art form that opens the door to the next eaggerley awaited 2020 exhibition. Continuing through until 14 July 2019, it is essential viewing for those who wish to know more.

Balinese Classical paintings by, from left Mungku Muriati, Mangku Mura, Mangku Kondra & Mangku Nyoman Kondra. Image Richard Horstman‘New’ Balinese Classical paintings by, from left Mungku Muriati, Mangku Mura & Mangku Nyoman Kondra.

 

 

Balinese Masters : Aesthetic DNA Trajectories of Balinese Visual Art

Open daily 11 AM  –  9 PM

AB•BC (Art Bali • Bali Collection) Building

Nusa Dua, Bali

 

Words: Richard Horstman

Images: Richard Horstman & courtesy of HPM, Bali

 

 

 

 

 

Bali’s GWK Statue completed after almost three decades

Image courtesy PT. Siluet Nyoman Nuarta

The epic tale of the Garuda Wisnu statue at the Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK) Cultural Park in Jimbaran, South Bali will soon reach its finale. In a monumental saga that stretches back to its conceptualisation in 1989, including the on and off progress of its construction, the sculptures creator, Balinese artist Nyoman Nuarta, has confirmed the project will be completed in early August.

“By the 4th of August this extraordinary combination of art, technology and science will be complete,” Nuarta recently announced. “This nation will have a new cultural icon, that, despite taking more than 28 years, and without help from the Indonesian governement, showes that private sector can contribute greatly to the nation and state. It is a special gift to celebrate the nation’s Independence Day on the 17 August, 2018,” added Indonesia’s most celebrated sculptor.

GWK Image courtesy PT. Siluet Nyoman Nuarta

Originally scheduled for completion in March 2019, in mid 2017 Nuarta was given a new deadline by the Indonesian government. The statue, which is the second tallest in the world, must be finished before October 2018 when IMF and World Bank delegates converge on Bali for their annual meetings to be held 8 -14 October. As a part of their itinerary a dinner will be held for the delegates at the GWK Festival Park, a vast field surrounded by limestone cliffs, within the sprawling 60-hectare cultural park.

In April a special ceremony officiated by the Governor of Bali, Mangku Pastika celebrated the installation of the statue’s 529th module, the Mahkota Dewa Wisnu – the 3.5-ton crown of Wisnu that is covered with gold-platted mosaics. A total of 754 modules of the statues outer skin, made of copper and brass sheeting, each weighing on average 800 kilograms, complete the installation.

Photo courtey PT. Siluet Nyoman Nuarta

The project has occupied as many as 120 experienced wielders working on site to re-assemble the modules before they are lifted up by two cranes and bolted onto the outer steel frame of the statue by workers who specialize in high altitude construction. “During the initial stages of the statues design there was no available technique to enlarge the difficult and complicated three-dimensional forms, nor was there any computer software that could do this,” Nuarta said. “Therefore, I had to find the solution to the problem. Finally, in 1991 we found a theory, and along with the birth of Autocad software we could move forward.”

Rigorous scientific integrity testing has been undertaken on all the construction materials and the statue itself, even taking earthquake resistance into account with the pedestal being able to withstand up to 8 on the Richter scale. Wind tunnel tests have indicated the statue, the largest in Indonesia, could withstand winds speeds of up to 259 nautical miles per hour.

side elevation GWK statue - image courtesy PT. Siluet Nyoman Nuarta

Standing 121 meters at the top of the Ungasan ridge, 271 meters above sea level and with a wingspan of 64 meters, the skin surface area of the statue reaches two and a half hectares or 25,000 m2, during the evening the statue will be a unique feature of the cultural park with its special lighting arrangement that was built-in Singapore. The statue will sit on a pedestal, or building base, which will function as a restaurant serving up to 500 people. There will also be a museum and a viewing gallery that will allow panoramic vistas of the rest of South Bali.

“The target is to attract 6,000 tourists per day,” Nuarta said, then continued. “Hopefully, Garuda Wisnu Kencana will serve as a reminder to Indonesians and the international audience, throughout this divisive period about our cultural roots as a tolerant and multicultural nation.”

Image Courtesy of PT. Siluet Nyoman Nuarta

 

Words: Richard Horstman

Images courtesy: PT. Siluet Nyoman Nuarta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paradise lost & new frontiers: Gede Mahendra Yasa’s landmark investigation into Balinese painting

"Tamiang" GMY 2011Tamiang, 2011, 150 x 200cm – Gede Mahendra Yasa. Exhibited in “Post Bali”

 

After the fall of President Suharto and the New Order Regime in 1998 Indonesian artists enjoyed new liberties, and their art became increasingly social and political in content. Representing a new generation of the Balinese avant-garde, Gede Mahendra Yasa was inspired by the freedoms of the post refromasi era, and dared to investigate his Balinese roots like no other artist had previously attempted – he questioned the popular ‘narratives’, along with the status quo. What transpired at the beginning of the new millenium has evolved into an ongoing project – a unique, yet essential, exploration into Balinese painting.

Born in 1967 in the island’s former capital of Singaraja, Mahendra Yasa grew up within a ‘multi-cultural’ environment where the Balinese Hindu’s had the freedom to choose a more open interpretation of cultural life. They were not subjected to the religious and cultural structures that were ‘imposed’ within the Gianyar regency during the 20th century, while it was being honed into a pro-Dutch colonial model of a ‘living cultural museum’ to stimulate tourism.

"Priest" GMY 2011Priest, 2011, 150 x 200cm – Gede Mahendra Yasa. Exhibited in “Post Bali”

 

Mahendra Yasa studied architecture and mechanical engineering in Surabaya, East Java from 1986 to 1988, yet he discovered this to be too limiting, being more attracted to the expressive freedoms of painting. He then began his autodidact journey, and an intensive learning into the history and discourses of Western painting.  Between 1998-2002 he formally studied at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Denpasar where he analyzed his practical and theoretical Balinese art knowledge.

Bali is generally considered to be exotic, and is stuck in a past cultural era. Balinese art is perceived as secondary, as a craft, and not as a legitimate part of Indonesian modern art history. These issues have arisen due to the dense bias of ethnography and anthropology (orientalist in nature) in determining the understanding of Bali, especially during 1920’s – 1930’s within the ‘golden age’ of Balinese development when Balinese traditional art was shaped as a colonial political tool – and this frustrates Mahendra Yasa.  An atheist, Mahendra Yasa was an avid detractor of the local culture, and took a critical stance to the art practices in Bali. This compelled him to continuously investigate and then seek out new frontiers in Balinese painting, in a career long pursuit into its thematic and aesthetic distinctions.

7 Magnficent Masterpieces #1, 2011, 200x150cm Newspaper Collage chinese ink on canvas7 Magnificent Masterpieces #1, 2011, 200 x 150cm, Newspaper Collage & Chinese Ink on Canvas – Gede Mahendra Yasa. Exhibited in “Post Bali”

 

“My entry point is from the contemporary, but using the traditional identity of painting,” he once said. In Post Bali, his landmark 2014 exhibition at ROH Projects, Jakarta, Mahendra Yasa adopted a unique methodology to other Indonesian contemporary artists, driven by his powerful intellect, and an obsession with painting, he delved into local Balinese issues from a western conceptual art perspective. Painting for the artist is not only about the object – it can function as a philosophical and analytical tool.

Post Bali combined an array of western and Balinese painting styles through which Mahendra Yasa revealed his investigation of the complexities of Balinese painting. He utilized various appropriations in his works that have been internationally recognized as modern or contemporary art masterpieces. The exhibition unfolded with photo-realism paintings from 2010 depicting scenarios of Balinese life. It continued via the acclaimed traditional Batuan narrative style of painting, with miniature photo realistic characters as the code through which he explained key parts of Balinese, Indonesian and Western art techniques and history. Within these works he also explored traditional techniques of making canvases, and Chinese ink painting.

7 Magnificent Masterpieces #2, 2012 Acrylic on canvas 200x150cm7 Magnificent Masterpieces #2, 2012, 200x150cm, Acrylic on Canvas – Gede Mahendra Yasa. Exhibited in “Post Bali”

 

Contemporary Art in Paradise Lost, Mahendra Yasa’s enormous 75 x 300 cm epic which included multiple scenes in the one work, taking the artist over a year to complete, was juxtaposed against his dual panel Pollock-esque abstract expressionist works. Post Bali explored three distinct realizations of Bali through different painting styles and ‘tests’ to what extent it is able to interact with materials and ideas familiar to contemporary art. The exhibition can be read as a chronological progression of his work and represents the start of a project that has now become much larger and more complex in nature. Post Bali has defined Mahendra Yasa as one of the few, truly important Balinese contemporary artists, while confirming his position within Indonesian art history.

"Silver Acrylic Paint on Face #2" GMY 2012 Silver Acrylic Paint on Face, #2, 2012 –  Gede Mahendra Yasa (self-portrait)

 

In early June 2018 the following interview was conducted by Richard Horstman and Gede Mahendra Yasa.

 

RH: Since early 2000 you have been driven by the need to question the popular ‘narratives’ and the status quo within Balinese art.

Why did you begin doing this?

GMY: In 2001, only 3 years after reformation and the fall of the new order regime, Indonesian artist enjoyed new freedoms, and political art came to the fore. For a few decades Sanggar Dewata Indonesia (SDI), Bali’s oldest and most influential collective which began in 1970, held power over the art scene. For me, however, they represented the new order regime, with much of their approach to art continuing on from the Dutch colonial methods. I was determined to change the game here in Bali.

The-Death-of-Gatotkaca. 1500x200. 2013The Death of Gatotkaca, 2014, 150 x 200cm – Gede Mahendra Yasa. Exhibited in “Post Bali”

 

RH: As an art provocateur it was essential to ask important questions in order to be able to move forward, as well as to inspire others to be more analytical and critical. Within the sphere of Indonesian and Balinese art, however, there is no culture of criticism, and such an approach is seen as confrontational. You had to move ‘out of the comfort of your studio’ and into the public forum to be heard.  Was this difficult to do?

GMY: Yes, at the beginning it was very difficult. But slowly the art public accepted my criticism.

RH: The formation of collectives has played an important role, while helping you in the exploration of your ideas. (This first began with the Klinik Seni Taxu. The young artists of Taxu reacted to the institutionalized “authority” over Indonesian art which prevailed during in the 1990’s – 2000. They were driven to promote the development of a Balinese art outside the traditional parameters of Balinese religion and culture and were active between 2001-06 releasing publications and exhibiting. In 2001, as students at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Denpasar, the Taxu group received funding from ISI to hold an art event they titled, Mendobrak Hegemoni (Shattering the Hegemony).

"Paradise Lost" GMY Chinese Ink on Kamasan Canvas 2014

Paradise Lost #2, 2014, Chinese Ink on Kamasan Canvas – Gede Mahendra Yasa

 

What occurred was a protest featuring abusive comments in various languages about the commercialization of art. They attacked copies of major artists works and produced effigies of the artists as mummies, posters proclaimed ‘art is dead’. The event shocked both the singled out artists, and the ISI authorities during an era when the pressures of the New Order Regime were still heavy. The protest was of national significance because Bali had become a key site for the formation of ideas about Indonesian art).

Can you explain why the Taxu group came about and what were their aims?

GMY: Bali has traditions like the banjar system of communal organization. I learned from the influence of the foreign artist during the 1930’s – 1940’s (Spies and Bonnet) and Nyoman Ngendon from Batuan, and in wider context from the first Indonesian community based artist groups (PERSAGI & LEKRA). I understood that organizing groups, following in the tradition of making “schools” of artists was a more strategic and quicker way to achieve goals. This belief pushed me to find artistic idioms for the groups to function as a“glue” (Social realism for Klinik Seni Taxu, and abstraction for Nu-Abstract, his latest collective which began in 2017).

"Between Me,You and the Bedpost #2 Mahendra YasaBetween Me, You and the Bedpost #1. 2014, 100 x 163cm – Gede Mahendra Yasa, Exhibited in “Post Bali”

 

RH: More recently the Neo-Pitamaha has been formed. Can you share more about this collective?

GMY: The origins of the Neo-Pitamaha began after my 2011 solo exhibition in Milan, Italy because of problems with my “identity” as a Balinese painter. I began to think a lot about my artistic roots, and then started to explore Balinese painting (focussing on painting from the last century – the Classical style referred to as Kamasan, and the Batuan traditional style). I believed that the Classical and traditional styles had come to a dead-end. And then I challenged myself to contemporize what the academic artists (especially the Yogyakarta Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) alumni) thought was impossible. And I proved them wrong! In 2013 I “assembled” a new group to push this idea further.

RH: Can you share please the ideas behind your series of paintings made between 2012 – 2018 which began with 7 Magnificent Masterpieces #1 & #2, and continues on with Origen’s Gambit?

"Contemporary Art in Paradise Lost" 2012-2014, 300x75 cmContemporary Art in Paradise Lost, 2014, 75 x 300cm – Gede Mahendra Yasa. Exhibited in “Post Bali”

 

GMY: I wanted to contemporize the Batuan painting style emphasizing the full compositions, with no empty spaces. Complete with the dualities and horror, the dense and decorative style – very Balinese. Unlike the Dutch miniatures such as Brueghel, Bosch, for example, who use the linear perspective. I use the bird eye’s view perspective, like the Batuan artists. I then realised that the series could be used for telling stories about art history (Balinese, Indonesian and global art history). My inspirations came from the American painter Mark Tansey, and also the comic genres, such as Marvel and DC Comics, and how they make alternative universes. I wanted to mimic their method to create my own universe – an art history universe.

Remember this miniature epic series has taken 6 years to develop, so many things have happened. This is on going, and in the near future, in the third phase of this series I plan my approach to be more a linguistic or semiotic exploration. I will “illustrate” a lot of “ideas” about imagery, icons, logos and symbols. Here, I have been influenced by Xu Bing a main land Chinese painter.

"Yasa Perburuan Rusa" GMY 2014                        Yasa Perburuan Rusa, 2014 – Gede Mahendra Yasa

 

RH: You have a long and ongoing relationship with abstract painting. In 2017 you formed the collective NU-abstract to explore further Balinese abstraction and the collective will be exhibiting at NADI Gallery in Jakarta in early July. Do you find exploring your feelings within this genre is the perfect creative pursuit while other concepts need certain periods of time to fully develop and to be successfully executed and expressed? Does this help you to achieve a type of ‘balance’?

GMY: Yes, I need to balance my other painting series as they demand too much logic. There is, however, another reason. I formed the NU-abstract group because there are some Islamic fundamentalist art groups (Rumah Warna, Khat, Khilafah art networks) in Yogyakarta, and Hijrah in Bandung, who want to use non-figurative painting as a tool to forbid the making of imagery of “living creatures”. They twist modern abstraction for their own political benefits while intercepting the potentiality of this new Indonesian art trend. I want to stop their ideas of controlling and polluting the Indonesian art world.

"Yasa Spiral Frame" GMY 2014                              Yasa Spiral Frame, 2014 – Gede Mahendra Yasa

 

Mahendra Yasa along with Neo-Pitamaha co-founder Kemal Ezedine set out to strategically impact upon the Indonesian contemporary art world in 2016 by participating in high level exhibitions and art fairs in Bandung, Jakarta and Yogyakarta. Their presence was especially visible during the two international art fairs, Art Stage Jakarta 2016 and 2016 Bazaar Art Jakarta that attracted large national and foreign audiences.

The Neo-Pitamaha have taken their name from the legendary 1936 artists association established in Ubud during a revolutionary period when traditional art was being modernized for the new and expanding international market – the Pitamaha’s oversaw the successful development of this new genre of art that helped communicate the Balinese culture around the world. The Pitamaha was formed by the prince of Ubud Tjokorda Agung Sukawati, Bali’s modern master Gusti Nyoman Lempad, and the expat foreign artists Walter Spies, and Rudolf Bonnet.

"BipolarDemons" GMY 2017, 200x160Bipolar Demons, 2107, 200 x 150cm – Gede Mahendra Yasa. From the NU-abstract series and exhibited in the group exhibition “Celebrating Indonesian Portraiture” at OHD Museum Magelang, Central Java, continuing through until 8 October 2018.

 

With their ideology deeply rooted in the historical development of Balinese art during the past century, and with a new discourse about Balinese art the Neo-Pitamaha reinterpreted this art form 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.

 

After Paradise Lost 2014-2016In May 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong Asian Contemporary Art Day Sale “After Paradise Lost” (2014) by Gede Mahendra Yasa sold for HKD 1,240,000 (USD 158,000), well above the estimated price of between HKD 350,000 (USD 44,500) – HKD 500,000 (USD 63,500).

 

Origen's Gambit" GMYAt Christie’s Hong Kong Asian Contemporary Art Day Sale November 2017, Gede Mahendra Yasa’s painting “Origen’s Gambit” (2016-2017) realised HKD 1,750,000 (USD 220,000), selling well above the estimated price of HKD 380,000 (USD48,000) – HKD 550,000 (USD70,000).

 

Gede Mahendra Yasa’s painting After Paradise Lost has been selected as one of the 15 finalists in the Signature Art Prize. The award, which is presented every three years, is organized by the Singapore Art Museum and sponsored by the Asia-Pacific Breweries Foundation. The winner will be announced at an award ceremony on June 29, and the works are currently on exhibit from May 25 to Sept. 2 at the National Museum of Singapore.

 

 

 

Words: Richard Horstman

Images: Coutesy of IndoArtNow, Gede Mahendra Yasa & Richard Horstman

Bruce Carpenter: presenting Indonesian art & culture to the world

BruceC-2a                                                          Bruce Carpenter

 

A lust for life and adventure, along with a generous dose of savvy have propelled New York City born and bred Bruce W. Carpenter around the planet.

The son of a young American soldier who returned from WWII with an upper class English bride, Carpenter found himself torn between the idealism and glory of old Britain and the cosmopolitan metropolis of his birth. In the end, the creative cauldron that was NYC in the 60s & 70s would be the winner.

“I found my sanctuary in the great museums and then seminal art scene of the “City” where I was introduced to the Underground Art Scene and the Beat Poets. This would lead on to the first happenings, the precursor of installations, in Soho lofts, Andy Warhol’s Factory, experimental theatre and film,” says Carpenter, who eventually channelled his creativity into filmmaking. Carpenter was also an eyewitness and full-blown inductee into the Woodstock Generation, having attended the concert, and the Age of Aquarius. He played in a Blues band and was a member of several theatre groups.

Lempad_cvr_300dpiLempad of Bali: the illuminating lineCarpenter, Darling, Hinzler, McGowan, Vickers, Widagdo

The election of Richard Nixon and the resurgence of the conservative right, along with the death of a brother who served during the Vietnam War, precipitated a leap across the Atlantic Ocean to the city of Amsterdam where idyllic hippie dreams were still raging on. After experiencing one long and miserable Northern European winter, Carpenter succumbed to exotic tales of the mystic East recited by a new breed of young travellers.

In 1974 he sold his camera and bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok. During the next 18 months he would explore the east crisscrossing the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia starting in Sumatra. Together with the Swiss artist-photographer, Charles Junod, they would scout out wild destinations and create surreal installations that they photographed. These would tour Europe in an exhibition of surreal photography sponsored by the Canon Gallery.

When Carpenter arrived on the island paradise of Bali, Kuta was no more than a small village set in coconut groves adjacent to the beach. “There was a handful of homestays with a cast of international bohemian suffers and roaming hippies as the guests,” he recounts. The two most dangerous moving objects were falling coconuts and the deer-like Balinese cow.

sovarrubias-sketchesMiguel Covarrubias Sketches: Bali – Shanghai – Adriana Williams & Bruce W Carpenter

For the next decade Carpenter led a nomadic lifestyle with regular visits to Bali. In the early 1980s, after meeting Dr. Stanley Kripper, he began organizing cultural tours under the auspices of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Sausalito. These specialized in visits to traditional healers and religious figures and would end with a book on traditional Balinese healing co-authored with Krippner and Dr. Denny Thong the head of Bali’s mental hospital in Bangli.

In 1985 Carpenter settled in Ubud and began working on a series of research and art projects usually tied with the art, history and culture of Indonesia. As his reputation grew he was invited to author and co-author a growing number of books. In 1993 he gained wide attention as the author of Willem G. Hofker, Painter of Bali (1993), the first major book on an expatriate artist on Bali. Several other books on expatriate artists soon followed including the acclaimed, W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp, the First European Artist in Bali (1997).

“Often in life, its not what you know, but who you know,” says Carpenter. Through a serious of discussions with key figures in the hotel industry in Bali Carpenter was to be granted a wonderful opportunity after he convinced the management of the Four Seasons Resort in Jimbaran that luxury hotels were the natural heirs of the mantle once held by the royal palaces as patrons of the arts. The result was the opening of the Ganesha Gallery, the first dedicated art gallery on the premises of a hotel in 1992. This was hailed as an excellent cultural bridge between the guests and Indonesian modern and traditional art.

9789814068154-us          Emilio Ambron: An Italian Artist in Bali – Bruce W. Carpenter

Initially the resort attracted wealthy and sophisticated international clientele and with the charismatic Carpenter as the figurehead of Ganesha and his sharp eye for art, the timing was perfect and it became an immediate success.

For a 15-year period the gallery held 12 exhibitions a year, an unheard of phenomenon in Indonesian art, confirming it as the fine art gallery in Bali. In its heyday well-heeled guests and local collectors purchased quantities of art, however over the years as the profile of the guests changed, along with events such as the Gulf War, 9/11 and the Bali bombings, and its market gradually faded. This experience for Carpenter gifted him with enormous experience and knowledge, along with connections and an international reputation.

In the meanwhile Carpenter would also begin publishing a series of books on the traditional arts of Indonesia, including Mentawai Art, Batak Sculpture, Nias Sculpture and two books on traditional jewellery. “I am a firm believer that expatriates should contribute to the country they live in. I was blessed with a deep knowledge and appreciation of Indonesian arts and culture which is fast disappearing and I have taken it upon myself to try to record as much of it as possible.

4mpXadWmpPcjnmClhQXP          W.O.J Nieuwenkamp: First European Artist in Bali – Bruce W. Carpenter

In all, Carpenter has written and co-authored over twenty books and scores of articles on Indonesian art, culture and history. However, with the recent release of the book Lempad of Bali – The illuminating Line, the first fully comprehensive study on the master of Balinese traditional artist, Gusti Nyoman Lempad (1862-1978), on the 20th September 2014 at Museum Puri Lukisan, he admits, “this has by far been the most challenging project I have engaged in in my life.”

“As the book concept and project manager my list of tasks was unprecedented. I had to oversee interactions with over forty institutions and collectors in eight different countries, each with different requirements, along with dealing with six authors, one of whom is dead!” Carpenter says. “Our endeavour was to include the broadest range of Lempad’s works available in the book, therefore the detective work required was unbeknown to us and consequentially enormous.” The beautiful volume of over 424 pages is the culmination of more than six years work for the team of dedicated and respected academics and professionals.

“Bali deserves to have world class art exhibitions, books and events to create more interest in its immense and unique culture,” Carpenter states.

“I am dedicated to the publication of illustrated books on the traditional arts of Indonesia which have disappeared or are disappearing. We honor the past by recording its brilliance. I also feel it is important to urge young Indonesians to do the same. It is ironic that westerners play such a critical role in the studies of Indonesian art. This should change.”

Opinionated and articulate Carpenter counts many, including the rich and famous, as friends. A father of two he cuts both a dashing and unusual figure. His trailblazing journey through life is rich in colourful tales that are steeped in the exotic, mysterious and dynamic.

127446                                 Indonesian Tribal Art – Bruce W. Carpenter

 

Words: Richard Horstman

the Unsung Museum – highlighting issues challenging Indonesia’s on-going struggle for democracy

A miniture work "They Gave Evidence" by Dadang Christianto, collected by the Unsung Museum. Photo by Wirya Satya AdenatyaA miniature work “They Gave Evidence” by Dadang Christianto, collected by the Unsung Museum. Photo by Wirya Satya Adenatya

 

The Unsung Museum (Museum Tanpa Tanda Jasa) is a landmark, travelling exhibition that is currently crisscrossing the country and features miniature artworks that are big on cultural significance. The exhibition highlights the most important issues challenging Indonesia’s on going struggle for democracy since the nation’s colourful, fledgling journey began. These issues include tolerance of minority groups, along with ethnic, ideologically and religious diversity, and collective harmony.

Taking a series of chronologically banned, destroyed, removed or censored artworks the Unsung Museum displays them in scaled-down miniature versions of the real things. Accompanying these mini-masterpieces are news articles from the time, together with amusing parodied public reactions and news media video installations.

“Art is no stranger to controversy; throughout its history it has presented works that have irked the moral guardians of the day,” said Yogyakarta based curator Grace Samboh, one of many members of the Indonesian contemporary art community who have initiated the Unsung Museum in an event that characterizes the social conscience and synergy of some of the country’s most relevant and motivated artists and activists. “Sometimes to see why an artwork that is deemed controversial, we need to see it from a different perspective, and what better way is there than to see it in miniature.”

An audience member at ROH Projects, Jakarta during the Undsung Museum - Photo Credit: Wirya Satya Adenatya.An audience member at ROH Projects, Jakarta during the Undsung Museum – Photo Credit/ Wirya Satya Adenatya

Beginning September 2016 at Jakarta’s ROH Projects, for 3 weeks the exhibition set out to inform, not only citizens, yet members of the Indonesian art industry, of the relevance of these pressing issues. The exhibition was next showcased in Central Java, at Yogyakarta’s Kedai Kebun Forum from late October running into November, then opening in West Java, at Bandung’s Ruang Gerilya, 15 December until 7 January 2017.

“We are retelling stories of several artworks that were once considered a ‘public nuisance’ during the Reformation Era because of three recurring reasons related to pornography, communism and SARA (ethnic, religion, race and inter-group relations) by three elements of the society (citizens/individuals, mass organizations and government),” Samboh said. “Based on these assumptions, several artworks attracted a variety of problems ranging from threats, restrictions, and even destruction.”

The country with the largest Islamic population on the planet, with Christian, Buddhist and Hindu religious minorities, however, is currently undergoing its most turbulent and disruptive period. The recent 8 May controversy at the Indonesian Islamic University’s Center for Human Rights Studies in Yogyakarta with the banning of paintings and poetry by members of the youth organization Pemuda Pancasila who enforced the closure of artist Andreas Iswinarno’s exhibition, Tribute to Wiji Thukul: Saya Masih Utuh dan Kata-kata Belum Binasa (I’m still complete and words have not yet been destroyed) on suspicion the works contained communism ideas, highlights the urgency of the Unsung Museum.

IMG_5400 Kredit foto Wirya Satya AdenatyaAt ROH Projects, Jakarta during the Undsung Museum – Photo Credit/ Wirya Satya Adenatya

“Bearing in mind a number of concerns about the stability of (ideas within) democracy, as well as democratic behavior in today’s society, our main question is: What does democracy mean to each and every one of us today, as part of the society, as citizens, and as someone who works in the arts?” Samboh said reflecting on the inspiration behind the exhibition. “We have adopted the concept of a mobile museum for the exhibition due to its informative nature and educational aspects, as well as its openness to the public.”

The mini works collected by the Unsung Museum include versions of: ‘Pinkswing Park’, a walled photomontage by Agus Suwage and Davy Linggar, exhibited at the 2005 Jakarta CP Biennale, it was deemed to be blasphemous by Islamic fundamentalists FPI who forced the closure of public access to the work, while demanding prosecution of the artists, and They Gave Evidence exhibited in 2002 in Jakarta by Dadang Christanto, a major ceramic series of standing, naked figures, in their outstretched arms holding the remnants of burnings, drownings, beatings and other human mutilations, victims of oppression, social injustice and political violence.

Also collected are miniatures of a public artwork by Nyoman Nuarta that Islamic organizations protested against stating they were representational of Christian iconography and was consequently dismantled from its site in West Java in 2010. As well, an artwork by Galam Zulkifli that was removed in 2016 from the new Terminal 3 complex at the Soekarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta. Zulkifli’s enormous 200 x 600 cm painting includes iconic figures in the development of the Indonesian nation. Seri Ilusi # The INDONESIA IDEA was taken down in order to avoid a polemic on social media as one of the portraits in the painting featured DN Aidit, the former chairman of the Indonesian Communist Party.

An audience member during the opening of the Unsung Museum at ROH Projects, Jakarta - Photo Credit: Wirya Satya AdenatyaAn audience member during the opening of the Unsung Museum at ROH Projects, Jakarta – Photo Credit/ Wirya Satya Adenatya

“Within conversations surrounding these artworks, the conclusion is often misunderstanding,” Samboh explains. “The arts community considers the dismissal of these artworks were due to some people having misunderstood or failed to understand altogether. In fact, quite often the misunderstandings come not only from those who dismiss these artworks but also from the arts community itself.”

“The Unsung Museum is not an attempt to point out rights and wrongs. In light of democracy, we want to poke people’s awareness on equality of knowledge upon rights and obligations of the various elements in the arts community—within art disciplinary context.”

Along with Samboh the Unsung Museum is initiated by Aliansyah Chaniago, Fajar Abadi RDP, Jim Allen Abel, Julian Abraham ‘Togar’, Maryanto and Tamara Pertamina, while inviting other people, and aspires to continue inviting more people over time. “The Unsung Museum has already received strong public response,” Samboh said. “We are now compiling the feedback, and the topics are being discussed in the hope that we can publish a book on views of our recent democracy through the art publics’ perspective.”

“Our mission is to rekindle discussions about democracy in the Reformation Era with the arts community whilst not closing itself from the involvement of other members of the community.”

An audience member photographs part of the Unsung Museum- Photo by Wirya Satya Adenatya

The Unsung Museum is scheduled to continue in Medan, North Sumatra, and Makassar and Manado in Sulawesi early in 2018.

 

Words: Richard Horstman

Images: Wirya Satya Adenatya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Indonesian Modern Art: the Painting Collection of the Presidential Palace of the Republic of Indonesia – Senandang Ibu Pertiwi

headpic_orig                         The National Gallery of Indonesia, Jakarta

The 2016 inaugural presentation of the Painting Collection of the Presidential Palace of the Republic of Indonesia, 17/71, Goresan Juang Kemerdekaan (The Brushstrokes of the Independence Struggle),  2-30 August at the National Gallery of Indonesia, Jakarta, highlighted the relevance of art and culture to the nation. Officially opened on 17th August by the current Indonesian President Joko Widodo, on the 71st anniversary of the proclamation of independence, the exhibition featured 28 paintings from the collection of over 3000 works assembled by Indonesia’s founding father President Sukarno.

It  featured scenes of the independence struggle by Indonesian maestros such as Affandi, Sudjojono and Raden Saleh alongside pictures of iconic Indonesia by painters such as Srihadi, Rudolf Bonnet and Walter Spies. The painting collection hangs in all six of the Presidential Palaces in Java and Bali.

20170811_135559          Nyi Roro Kidul (Queen of the South Seas) 1950 – Basoeki Abdullah

20170811_140437                         Lelang Ikan (Fish Auction) – Itji Tarmizi

Following on from last year’s historic event which attracted over 30,000 visitors to the National Gallery, the second edition: Senandang Ibu Pertiwi (Songs of the Mother Land) open 2 -30 August as part of the 72nd anniversary celebrations of Indonesian independence. It showcased 48 works by 44  artists from the 19th and 20th centuries with a variety of themes including landscapes, tradition, mythology and religion.

The son of an aristocratic Javanese schoolteacher and his high caste Balinese wife Sukarno was born in Surabaya, East Java, in 1901. From 1921-26 he studied at the Institute of Technology in Bandung,  West Java, graduating as an engineer, focusing on architecture. As the founding father and first President of the Republic of Indonesia, a position retained for almost 21 years, Sukarno was responsible for transforming the physical landscape of the capital city of Jakarta with public art.

1_2_orig“Pribite Nevesti” a painting that depicts a traditional Russian wedding by Russian artist Egorovick Makowsky.

Sukarno was an art lover and a great supporter of Indonesian modern art and Balinese traditional art amassing huge collections. While he enjoyed close relationships with many  artists he was also a talented painter. During his presidencey art was seen as a tool to help build the spirit and character of the nation.

Pribite Nevesti is the first painting that greets visitors upon entry into the foyer of the National Gallery. Painted by Russian artist Egorovick Makowsky (1839-1915) it is believed to be more than 125 years old, and depicts traditional Russian wedding. The painting was given to Sukarno as a gift during his visit to Russia by the leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev. It was exhibited at the Kremlin in Moscow before being brought to the Bogor State Palace in West Java and put on display.

A01_DSCN4907 CRW_9464_Basoeki Abdullah_Pemandangan Flores        Pantai Flores (On the Shores of Flores Island) 1942 – Basoeki Abdullah

20170811_140513              Keluarga Nelayan (Fisherman’s Family) 1950 – Renato Cristiano

Entering the display room the first theme is Nature’s Diversity and features a  variety of  landscape paintings, twelve in number, that immortalize the dramtic and beautiful scenary of Indonesia.  One of the highlights is Pantai Flores (On the Shores of Flores Island) 1942, by Basoeki Abdullah, the painting was originally a watercolor on paper by Sukarno, that was replicated into an oil on canvas work on request by Sukarno. The scene of the beautiful Flores landscape was captured  while he was exiled on the remote Ende Island between 1934 – 38 , sentenced by the Dutch East Indies Colonial Government.

Another highlight was Harimau Minum (Drinking Tiger) 1863 by the father of Javanese modernism Raden Saleh (1811-1880) who after living in Europe for 20 years studying with various european artist, became a portrait painter for the aristracy. The painting portrays a mystical atmosphere that is rich in symbolism and depicts a tiger drinking from a river.

20170909_100327                 Harimau Minum (Drinking Tiger) 1863 – Raden Saleh

20170811_110652                 Works dispalyed within the theme of Nature’s Diversity

20170811_140338

The collection of works themed Mythology and Religion offer insights into the historic and cultural influences that have evolved throughout the country over the centuries helping to define Indonesia.

According Senandang Ibu Pertiwi  curators Asikin Hasan, Amir Sidharta, Mikke Susanto and Sally Texania, the exhibtion catalogue: “The archipelago is not only a region that has numerous myths containing mystical and anthropological values, but also a locus that has created elements appropriated by almost all of the major religions in the world. The major kingdoms that prospered in Java, Sumatra, and other large islands are a melting pot for teachings whose artefacts we can still find today.”

Arguably the most iconic painting  within the mythology theme is Nyi Roro Kidul (Queen of the South Seas) 1950 by Basoeki Abdullah, a story that is often described in paintings. In Yogyakarta, there is a widely known story about Nyi Roro Kidul, who is depicted as a beautiful woman and ruler of the South Coast and seas. The myth describes that Kidul is found of the colour green, so the local people and careful not to wear this colour when they venture out into the southern ocean for fear of being taken by the Queen of the South Seas.

20170811_135321                       Offering to the Gods – Gusti Ketut Kobot

20170811_140233                                         Theo Meier

20170811_135453                                   Ida Bagus Made Poleng

20170811_135530

 

Words & Images: Richard Horstman