Beyond the beach: five of the best Balinese art galleries

Exciting new gallery spaces are putting this Indonesian idyll on the map for cool contemporary art.Saturday, 19 October 2019

Craftsman carving wood at the Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA) in Ubud, an atmospheric one-stop-shop to learn about Balinese art.
Craftsman carving wood at the Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA) in Ubud, an atmospheric one-stop-shop to learn about Balinese art.
photo by Alamy

With the 2017 opening of Jakarta’s Museum MACAN (Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara) on the island of Java, Indonesian art stepped firmly onto the international stage. But culture-hungry travellers should go further than Indonesia’s capital; hop one island east and you’ll find that Balinese art is breaking new ground. Nature and art are closely interwoven in Bali and if you know where to go, you’ll find there’s far more to this island’s creative output than beautiful batik. With a long history of artisans, this green, serene Hindu island is traditionally a place where uniquely skilled folk art has flourished — dedicated to the devotional and decorative, spiritual and tourist-friendly. But beyond Bali’s culture of mask makers, batik weavers and rice-paddy-landscape-painters, a burgeoning crop of artists is producing work shaped by sharp, sometimes subversive twists on traditional themes. And the island is responding with some brilliant creative spaces showcasing new talent.

AB•BC
The Art Bali•Bali Collection building opened last year with the fanfare Balinese Masters exhibition of installations, paintings, sculptures, drawings and objects by 34 Balinese artists and communities, mapping how the island’s art has evolved since the 1950s. The first of three on-going exhibition instalments examining Balinese’s distinctive art development and style, shown in an artfully designed space in the Nusa Dua beach resort area, this is a great place to see both modern Balinese art styles that adhere to classical forms and themes, and also works that represent a shift to non-narrative, abstract style of painting. Look out for regular changing exhibitions, theatre productions, screenings and more. 

Tony Raka
By far the coolest gallery-cum-hangout space on the island, come to this jungle-fringed Ubud address to sip iced-and-spiced flat whites among mid-century-style furniture, buy some unique jewellery or, if money allows, a mega-scale masterpiece. The walls of this ‘art lounge’ that aren’t given over to vast picture windows framing the lovely sprawling gardens (also an al fresco gallery space filled with pieces of wooden carvings and sculptures), are hung with paintings for sale, leading into the gallery proper where you’ll find bold works by the likes of satirist painter Teja Astawa, or an energetic abstract by I Made Wianta. Dating back 30 years, the gallery was originally dedicated to woodcarving, but since the 1990s has been a stalwart promoter of contemporary art from Bali and Indonesia. 

A man during manufactures a Wayang kulit (shadow puppets), Yogyakarta.
A man during manufactures a Wayang kulit (shadow puppets), Yogyakarta.
photo by Getty

Astina Gallery
“Contemporary art can only come from tradition.” So says master mask maker and traditional dance-performer, Ida Bagus Anom Suryawan. Set in the village of Keliki (which is also home to schools teaching the eponymous, incredible miniaturist painting style), this gallery-workshop is a homage to the demons, gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon, with masks in their tusked, winged, wild-eyed form. Carved from pule and hibiscus wood, coloured to acid-Technicolor brilliance, they’re used for performing in temple ceremonies. But there are also some haunting departures from tradition, with masks made to order. Allowing room for Anom’s creative vision, these run the gamut from angle faces to Maori war masks. Think you’ve got what it takes? Try one of the regular mask-making masterclasses. 

ARMA
The Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA) is one of the jewels in Ubud’s well-studded crown of stellar galleries and museums. Founded by Agung Rai, who made his name putting Balinese art on the international market in the 1970s, he amassed one of the country’s most substantial private collections, much of which is on show. If you want an atmospheric one-stop-shop to learn about Balinese, and wider Indonesian art, both classical and contemporary, this is it. Part of a cultural complex, with a smart hotel, and leafy gardens that act as an exotic backdrop for bold modern sculpture, AMRA also hosts fairly regular evening programmes of traditional dance and music. 

Naka Contemporary Art Gallery
Come here for art in all mediums and messages: painting, design, performance, music, film and pretty much anything in between. One of the leading galleries in the ever-expanding boutique-shopping-and-dining beach town of Seminyak (along with the excellent neighbouring Positive Negative Gallery and Purpa Fine Art Gallery), works here are Balinese and international, and you can expect anything from dreamy surfer art and stylised soft-focus vintage-style Balinese portraits, to reimagined superhero art and punky cut-outs. There are sister galleries in Ubud and Jimbaran, too. 

To read more about Bali’s art scene go to our feature 

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