Art is the ultimate expression of the soul. It can be an individual’s expression or the expression of an entire culture. Visiting art museums is one way to feed your thoughts and to connect with the history and heritage of a culture with endless tales. It enriches one’s knowledge about the place and becomes a sneak peek into the soul of the people, while also being the fastest method to learn about how a society expresses itself to the world.
Bali hosts architecturally magnificent museums, and each museum is individually interesting as it talks about its own distinct history. The story and culture of Bali is ingrained into the walls of these museums and galleries. The fragrance of a bygone era is palpable in these artful places, and it will surely deepen your understanding as well as your appreciation of the Balinese art.
the blanco renaissance museum
Located on the top of a hill and overlooking the greenery of the Campuhan valley, this museum was basically the house as well as the studio of ‘the flamboyant’ Don Antonio Blanco. He earned the moniker ‘Fabulous Blanco’ since his works clearly mirror his creativity. His crafts are composed of thought provoking artworks, especially his nude paintings like the Nude with Devil’s Mask. The young Blanco has always been riveted with the human frame, specifically that of a woman’s body. This curiosity has been a great influence in making his exceptional masterpieces.
The structure of the building is a mix of Balinese and Spanish architecture. Apart from the collections of Blanco’s work throughout his prolific years as an artist, visitors can also enjoy the family temple and the gardens. You can feel the artist’s emotion in each part of the property. His studio remains the way it was; undisturbed and unmoved. You can even still see some of his unfinished paintings.
The Blanco Renaissance Museum
A : Jalan Raya Penestanan, Sayan, Ubud, Gianyar
T : +62 361 975502
W : www.blancomuseum.com
le mayeur museum
The museum brings alive the work and creativity of Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres, a painter who lived in Sanur and dedicated his life to two of his greatest passions – women and art. This museum is one of the best examples of the Balinese architecture. It has wonderfully carved windows that tell the story of Ramayana. The interior of the museum has woven fibres, a naturalistic Balinese touch.
The museum is divided into five rooms; the studio, study room, reading room, bedroom, and Ni Pollok’s, Le Mayeur’s wife, vanity corner. Le Mayeur’s paintings of Bali are mostly depictions of everyday life. There are many paintings of beautiful Balinese women, in which most of them are featuring his wife who used to be a Legong dancer. Others on display are the artist’s impressionist paintings during his many travels in the South Pacific, the Mediterranean, Africa, and India.
Le Mayeur Museum
A : Jalan Hang Tuah, Sanur Kaja, South Denpasar
T : +62 361 286201
neka art museum
This museum is a perfect stop if you are keen to see a diverse collection of art. It houses many art pieces where you can learn about the development of Bali’s visual arts. The museum has many pavilions that feature different collections. The Arie Smit Pavilion, Lempad Pavilion and Contemporary Indonesian Art Hall displays the stunning works by some of the most renowned artists, both Balinese and foreigners. Visitors can find Balinese paintings in the famous Wayang style based on classic shadow puppets. The realistic depictions of rural life, historic black-and-white photographs of Bali in the years before World War II, and the collection of woodcarvings and bronze sculptures will transport you to an old era altogether.
Neka Art Museum has also started to collect Keris – Indonesia’s traditional dagger. There are a lot of superstitions that revolved around keris; it is alleged to be corporeal manifestations of unseen cosmic forces. What sets a Keris from others is its peculiar numbers of curves together with its straight blades. Neka’s quest of finding these elusive Keris started from going to antique shops, visiting known collectors and even contacting different organisations. Many people heed this search as they bring old and new Keris alike to be examined by Neka. Since then, this museum has been known to collect all the other peripherals (grips, coverings, scabbards) associated to Indonesia’s renowned traditional dagger.
Neka Art Museum
A : Jalan Raya Sanggingan Campuhan, Kedewatan Ubud, Gianyar
T : +62 361 975074
Located in Denpasar, this museum is basically a heritage museum that depicts Balinese culture and history. Created in 1931 by a Dutch architect P.J. Moojen, this museum keeps a stock of artefacts that can be traced back to the megalithic period, like a sarcophagus, bronze statues (of Hindu and Buddha era), ethnographic objects, religious ceremony tools, stupika clay, many ancient tools and weapons among many others. It also houses different Balinese looms and ancient calendars.
The Bali Museum has four main structures. In Tabanan, visitors can see musical instruments and theatrical masks. In Karangasem, paintings and sculptures are on display. If you are interested in the local textile industry and its history, you can see them in Buleleng. For those who are keen to see archaeological artefacts, these can be found in Timur. Overall, visitors will be transported to the colourful past of Bali. Succinct to say, Bali Museum has been monumental in showcasing Bali’s history for the longest time.
A : Jalan Mayor Wisnu, Dauh Puri Kangin, East Denpasar
T : +62 361 222680
setia darma house of mask & puppets
Puppetry is an important part of traditional and religious ceremonies in Southeast Asia. Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets celebrates this tradition and wonderfully pays tribute to Balinese and Javanese puppetry and ceremonial masks. The museum displays a unique gallery of masks that are undeniably exaggerated. They are mostly described as easily identifiable and to some extent terrifying. The captivating eerie vibe that the masks give off makes the museum experience a bit more stimulating. Some of these masks portray the real spirit of Bali’s courageous and flamboyant character.
Amidst the museum’s grounds adorned with lotus ponds and brooding banyan trees, you will find five pavilions constructed in the traditional wooden design within the 1.4 hectares of land. Be enchanted by the paddy landscape as well as the tropical gardens. There are thousands of ceremonial masks and puppets to be found in these historical buildings, including intricate wayang kulit, leather characters for shadow puppetry, wayang golek (wooden puppets), masks for topeng dances, and pieces from Africa and Europe.
Setia Darma House of Mask & Puppets
A : Jalan Tegal Bingin, Mas, Ubud, Kemenuh, Gianyar
T : +62 361 8987493
rudana fine art gallery
Nestled in a beautiful Balinese architectural plan, this art gallery is home to a large collection of both modern and traditional arts. With sculpted gardens filled with fragrant tropical trees and flowers, this place exudes serenity. The museum is divided into several compounds, each housing a collection of a different styles, from traditional to modern, ranging from naturalism to abstract and to post modernism all by prominent artists. You’ll get to see the differences between the classical Balinese arts from the more contemporary paintings that have been influenced by the Western concepts.
The artwork collections of the gallery house 5 styles, each characterised by their different Balinese origins: Batuan, Penestanan, Pengosekan, Kutuh and Penduyung. Rudana’s pieces reveal social history of their nation; a must-see for young generations and curious tourists who are seeking first-hand, authentic information about the history and development of Balinese arts. The main goal of the museum is to let the visitors not just enjoy but also study the paintings. And for that reason, fine art workshops or art competitions are regularly conducted to make the visitors an active participant in appreciating the richness of Indonesian fine arts.
Rudana Fine Art Gallery
A : Jalan Peliatan, Ubud, Gianyar
T : +62 361 975779
agung rai museum of art
Founded by Agung Rai, a local whose devotion was to preserve and develop Balinese culture and art, this museum has permanent exhibitions of paintings ranging from traditional to contemporary. Their idea of the ‘living museum’ has made them display paintings that depict the different varied phases of art. Moreover, they also give a portal for native painters and woodcarvers to demonstrate the genuine Balinese everyday way of life as showcased on their designs.
Agung Rai Museum of Art is not just a centre for visual but performing arts as well. It is established to help the local people get a platform to learn and develop their skills in different forms of arts, like painting, sculpture, dance and music. Excited visitors could surely optimise the visit in the museum as it offers many services, like viewing paintings and special exhibitions, enjoying theatre recitals and watching dance or music performances. They also accommodate visitors who are eager to learn more about arts, as they give conferences, seminars, workshops and even training programmes.
Agung Rai Museum of Art
A : Jalan Raya Pengosekan, Ubud, Gianyar
T : +62 361 976659
W : www.armabali.com