The market for Balinese paintings, often labelled ‘traditional’, is a small niche sector in comparison to the broader Indonesian modern and contemporary art market. While Indonesian collectors dominate it there is an upward trend of foreign buyers entering the market that is currently showing signs of growth.
In 2006 Larasati Auctioneers of Jakarta opened up an international forum for the trade of high- quality Balinese art. They began by presenting two auctions per year in Ubud specializing in Balinese paintings and have and helped revived a declining market. Works by some of the masters of the famous Pita Maha Artists Association established in Ubud in 1936; Ida Bagus Made Poleng, Gusti Nyoman Lempad, Anak Agung Gede Sobrat, Ida Bagus Made Nadera and Gusti Ketut Kobot are especially popular with collectors.
Balinese painting has many genres, beginning with the ancient, sacred narrative Classical style displayed in the temples and the houses of the aristocracy. These works are also referred to as Wayang paintings, their iconography and narratives being derived from the Wayang Kulit shadow puppet theatre. They came to be known as Kamasan paintings, from the village in Klungkung, East Bali that was the epicentre of Balinese art, 16th – 20th century.
Other genres evolved in the period 1920 – 1980 from the Classical style. The Batuan paintings developed its distinct visual features and techniques outside of the modern western influences accredited to Walter Spies (1895 – 1942) and Rudolf Bonnet (1895 – 1978) who were instrumental in the birth of the renowned Ubud School of Painting in the late 1920s. Other village styles, or schools developed, Sanur, Pengosekan, Young Artists, and Keliki, along with the woodcarvings from the village of Mas. The golden years of Balinese painting were 1930 – 1945, pre-WWII during an era that witnessed technical and stylistic innovations along with the first tourism boom on Bali. The second wave of tourism began in the 1970s, and the popularity of Balinese painting increased, especially after 1980 aligned with the national government’s policy of cultural tourism.
The critical reasons leading to Balinese art being underappreciated and undervalued has been due to its perception. It is often maligned and referred to as ‘tourist’ and folk art – a craft without a rightful place within Indonesian art history. Yet, on the contrary, some of the finest practitioners of Balinese painting, past and present, are from the Balinese high castes. Ida Bagus Made Poleng (1915 – 1999) for example, is considered the most influential artist from the 20th – century, and is from the Brahmin high caste. While the most cherished living painter is Anak Agung Gede Anom Sukawati (b. 1966) who is also from the upper caste. Therefore, it is not an art form exclusive to ordinary people.
Balinese art was collected by the Dutch during the colonial occupation (1840 – 1950) and exhibited in anthropological museums of the Netherlands. It was not presented in the renowned art museums of Europe that would have endorsed the relevance and value of Balinese painting within the context of world art. It was, however, displayed within the anthropological museums with demeaning colonial narratives, referred to as art made by the primitive people of Bali.
The above mentioned scenario, however, has recently undergone significant change, and two of institutions with the most important collections of Balinese art have been rebranded – renamed Museums of World Culture (the Volkenkunde Leiden Museum, Lieden, the Netherlands and the World Museum Vienna, Weltmuseum Wien, Austria). The Volkenkunde Leiden Museum recently began repurchasing Balinese paintings, six works by emerging Batuan artists Wayan Aris Sarmanta and Wayan Budiarta, and exhibited them in a ground breaking exhibition of art and culture “Welcome to Paradise” open May 2019. Importantly, from now on these institutions will present Balinese art free from the old narratives giving special curatorial attention to its significance. These factors will impact positively upon its perception and appreciation internationally, and importantly within Indonesia.
For the first time in its thirteen-year history, Larasati conducted their third auction in Ubud within the year. The recent Modern, Traditional and Contemporary Art Auction was held 12 October at the Larasati Art Space, Tebesaya Gallery, Ubud, Bali. The painting featured on the cover of the Larasati catalogue incited the most enthusiastic bidding of the day. Lot 792, “Pandwa dalam Pengasingan” (Pandawa in Exile) 1969, by Ida Bagus Rai (1933 – 2007) realised IDR 160 million (hammer prices are quoted without buyers premium) dramatically increasing more than 500% from its estimated price of between IDR 25 – 30 million. Another strong result was Lot 717 by Wayan Djudjul (1942 – 2008), “Suasana Pasar” (Market Atmosphere) with an estimated price of between IDR 28 – 38 million that sold for IDR 76 million, an increase of around 100%. A work by of one of the distinct innovators within the Ubud School, Dewa Putu Mokoh (1934 – 2010), Lot 739 “Jemur Pakian” (Drying Clothes) 2001 that had an estimated price of between IDR 15 – 18 million sold for IDR 22 million.
The sale, despite 30% of the lots being unsold, revealed the continuing demand for the signature works by the established masters of the Ubud School of Painting, with all significant works selling during the auction. For example there were four paintings, Lot # 780 – 783 by Anak Agung Gede Raka Puja (1936 – 2016) in the sale. The two works in his older style of daily life village scenarios did not sell, while Lot # 782 & 783, “Mendirikan Menara Bade” (Erecting the Cremation Tower), highlighted on the back cover of the Larasati catalogue, and “Melasti Ke Sakenan”(Melasti Precession to Sakenen) both were sold at just under their estimated values of IDR 130 million and IDR 75 million, respectively.
Two paintings by Wayan Kayun (b. 1954) were offered, yet only Lot # 777, in the artist’s signature culturally themed style “Persiapan Ngaben” (Preparation for a Cremation) was purchased, hammered down at IDR 110 million. Works by the recently deceased master of the Batuan miniature style Ketut Murtika (1952 – 2019) Lot # 785 “Perang Tanding Arjuna Melawan Karna”( Arjuna’s Fight Against Karna) and Lot # 786 “Ramayana Scene”, both mythological narratives, were purchased within their estimated values, for IDR 15 million and IDR 18 million respectively.
Noteworthy factors are impacting on the recent development of Balinese art, a new foundation, and art collectives. TiTian Bali Art Foundation opened in Ubud in 2016 and is an artist incubator specializing in identifying, and nurturing emerging talent and introducing the best artists to the market. Exciting young talent is appearing in the village of Batuan, such as the fore mentioned Sarmanta and Budiarta, along with Pande I Made Dwi Artha and Gede Widyantara, and from Keliki village artists such as Putu Kusuma and Putu Adi. These genres are in exciting new eras of development, driven by well-organized art collectives, Baturlangun in Batuan and the Werdi Jana Kerti Artists Association in Keliki.
The Larasati auctions offer opportunities to purchase Balinese paintings much cheaper than from artist’s studios and galleries, along with many entry points into the market for first-time buyers and those beginners developing their collection on smaller budgets with as little as IDR 1 million. Larasati’s website provides sale data from past auctions, information, and access to online live bidding. The Balinese market is undervalued with strong potential and opportunities available to collectors with a long term view willing to buy and hold for at least 10 -15 years to wait for the market to mature for profit-making.
This article was previous published on Art&Market.Net
Words: Richard Horstman
Images Courtesy of Larasati Auctioneers