Museum Puri Lukisan

Today I ventured further north into Bali, to Ubud, a city once close to the villages I called home in Bali so many years ago.

I saw in a magazine recently that Ubud was voted the best city in Asia.  I’m not sure I agree.  I found it a terribly frustrating experience.  I couldn’t walk 5 steps without somebody trying to sell me something (usually a taxi ride).  The traffic in the city was ridiculous, so much so that even walking was a chore (on her wonderful blog, my friend Jude Fox has some nice observations about Ubud).  I paid way too much for a mediocre lunch, and was finding myself incredibly frustrated, and regretting my decision to come to Ubud for the day.  I contemplated calling it a day and heading back to Sanur, but I continued on with my original plan, to visit the Museum Puri Lukisan, a strong hold of Modernist Balinese art.

I am glad I soldiered on.

Developed and conceived with the help of Rudolph Bonnet and Walter Spies (if I am not mistaken), two western artists whom each played a pivotal role in developing modernist painting in Bali, the museum now holds some classic works by some of the major contributors to the development of 20th century painting on the island, including works by both Bonnet and Spies, as well as I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, Ida Bagus Made, Ida Bagus Nyana, Anak Agung Gde Sobrat, I Gusti Made Deblog, Ida Bagus Made Togog – as well as the whole Batuan school of painters – and many others.

Most striking to me are the works by Lempad.

His work are usually based on the Hindu epics – the Mahabarata and the Ramayana – and other myths and folktales in the Hindu traditions.

Time and again, his drawings represent a wonderful sense of surrealism and the uncanny – a very unique perspective on the myths he depicts – blended with a great sense of joy and playfulness.

His drawings also possess a remarkable technical virtuosity.  So much in his lines seems fluid and effortless, allowing his images to full embody the page, and allowing the stories to feel alive.

It is so easy to take the visual styles and tendencies of Balinese visual art and lump them in schools and styles – so many artists like Ida Bagus Made Togog spawned lots of imitators – and yet Lempad still claims something entirely unique, a style and content that can’t be imitated.

There were lots of great works in addition to Lempad.  Most notable are the woodcarvings.

Balinese wood carving is really the best.  Some many of these works, again, demonstrate a remarkable technical virtuosity, and a keen understanding of the material.

Interesting too were some of the works by Ida Bagus Made, and the early works pioneering the Kamasan and wayang styles.

Having recently engaged in a textual study of Modernist art in Indonesia, it was nice again to step back from this critical perspective, and simply allow myself to respond to the works.

To allow myself to once again intuitively or viscerally respond to the works and ideas that brought me to Indonesia in the beginning.

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