Indonesian contemporary art is perhaps the most remarkable among the many interesting national art scenes in South East Asia, with diversity as its main asset. This reflects the ethnic and religious mélange of Indonesia, with its 1,700 islands or more, 300 languages, and mixed population of Muslims, Hinduists, Buddhists and Christians. The country boasts a long-standing and celebrated art tradition, from ancient up to modern times.
Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president after independence, founded art schools in the 1940s. However, since the fall of Suharto’s regime, which suppressed arts and politics, artists can explore themes such as politics, identity and sexuality in their art. A number of committed local collectors make up for the lack of artistic infrastructures in Indonesia by promoting the arts locally and internationally extensively, supporting artists by paying for their equipment or funding their international travel, curating exhibitions abroad, and nurturing young collectors. Art Stage Singapore dedicated a special pavilion to Indonesian artists in January 2013, which hosted the works of 36 interesting artists.
The Hong Kong branch of the London gallery Rossi & Rossi opened its new Yallay Space in January 2013 by exhibiting several Indonesian artists, including Heri Dono and Christine Ay Tjoe, along with other Asian artists. Works by Arin Dwihartanto Sunaryo and Reza Afisinaare currently exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Moreover, the Indonesian pavilion at the Venice Biennale in summer 2013 will showcase six Indonesian artists dealing with issues such as identity.
Building on the growing international relevance and success of South East Asian contemporary art and specifically Indonesian art, Artheum plans to launch the first edition of Bali Art Fair in 2014. Bali is a strategic location for a number of reasons: the preeminence of local arts and crafts in Balinese culture; the lack of an established art fair on the island; Bali’s proximity to Jogyakarta and its thriving contemporary art and gallery scene; the island’s status as a tourist haven; and its unique, relaxed vibe, very different from the usual rush of the art world.
Artheum will propose a new model of art fair in Bali: whilst attracting regional and international collectors and securing major media coverage, it will also offer groundbreaking artworks; and will give visitors and collectors the possibility to prolong their stay in Bali and enjoy the island’s relaxed pace of life. Bali Art Fair will become an exclusive meeting point of East and West.
Many forms of art have flourished for centuries in Bali, becoming an essential part of the fabric of Balinese life. Initial variations on Javanese and Indonesian arts eventually developed into highly specific Balinese traditions, which in turn underwent great transformations during the 20th century and especially since the 1920s-30s, with the sudden arrival of many Western tourists and a number of seminal Western artists. Many of these, astounded by the wealth of the local artistic heritage, chose the island as their residence and began interacting with local artists, craftsmen, performers and musicians.
The centre of classical Balinese painting, which started in the late 13th century thanks to artisans who introduced Hindu-Javanese painting to the island, was located in Eastern Bali for 400 years, up to the 20th century, when it moved to Ubud and neighbouring villages. Before the 20th century, most painting was in the kamasan or wayang style, and depicted the Hindu-Javanese epics. Painters began experimenting in the late 19th century, but real innovations took place from the late 1930s onwards and especially after World War II.
This is when local artists fully engaged with Western techniques and, following the repeated encouragement of famous foreign visitors, undertook experimental and anti-traditional work. Thus began the school commonly known as Modern Traditional Balinese Painting and its under-currents: Ubud, Batuan, Sanur, Young Artist, and Keliki Painting. Ubud Painting, for instance, the subjects of which derive mostly from daily Balinese life, reflects the change in patronage, from that of the temples and royal house to that of Western tourists. Moreover, the traditional multiple focus in compositions shifted to the single focus favoured by collectors. Although most Balinese and Indonesian contemporary painters are heavily influenced by modern western painting, the previous styles are still thriving.