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Modern Indonesian Masters

8 Senior Indonesian Artists Celebrate the 12th Anniversary of Ubud's Museum Rudana in a Joint Exhibition.

(8/11/2007) The role of a Museum of Art is to inform and educate! This is a common enough objective and one that could be expected of any museum. But Nyoman Rudana, the owner of the eponymous Museum Rudana, has purposely given this objective a supplementary function: his museum aims to be at the service of the image of the nation. And indeed, all the main exhibitions at the museum, have had, as their subject, Indonesian modern art the sole purpose of which has been to establish the place it occupies, in the larger framework of international art and, by so doing, to promote its international recognition. This attention, given to modernity in art in the national and international context, needs to be seen within the context of what is presently the museum owner's principal occupation: politics. As one of the four senators representing Bali in the Regional Representatives Council(DPD, Nyoman Rudana wishes to promote an image of Indonesia, and of Bali, that goes beyond tradition. He wants to affirm that his country is a contender on the scene of both cultural modernity and post-modernity.

Much has been written about modernism in art. Its presence in the international landscape has often been seen as a mere phenomenon of diffusion, as if the brands of modern art that now exist throughout the world were mere offshoots of a single Western trunk and, as such, were of little interest. What this viewpoint overlooks is that modernism sprang up under different circumstances in the West from in the rest of the world. In the West, it was self-generated, issuing from a questioning of form in relation to subjectivity that was closely related to the great socio-economic and cultural transformations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the rest of the world, however, it was exogenous. It was imposed top-down by colonization. Borrowed "modernist" form was never an issue per se. It became a simple garb in which artists expressed their local cultural concerns. The result can now be seen: as modernity is firmly establishing itself throughout the world, non-Western modernism, sometimes ambiguously called post-modernism, is coming back to haunt the Western world, its matrix: the modernist revolution is now dead in the West, and it is now from the non-Western world with its strongly localized art that the most original expressions of contemporary art are coming.

The exhibitions, held since its creation at the Museum Rudana, have been concrete illustrations of this phenomenon of plural modernism. This current exhibition does not simply aim at "comparing" Indonesian and foreign artists, as with previous events at the museum. The current event goes further and aims at illustrating what is Indonesia's specific contribution to international modernism in art: the insertion of an Indonesian ethnic symbolism within a modernist system of form. The logic of form espoused by the various artists in the show is undoubtedly that of modern art: exploration of color and form appears as a goal in itself, and does not seem to obey to any figurative constraints; yet, at the same time, carefully selected and often subtly connotative elements of figuration are present, in an obvious enough way to suggest spirituality-related forms of symbolism.

Eight artists are exhibiting at the present show "Modern Indonesian Masters." Among them are the greatest names of Indonesian and Balinese modern art. These eight selected artists represent the two modernist traditions of Hindu Bali and Islamized Java as well as the two schools of Bandung and Yogyakarta. These two schools are differentiated by the way modernism was introduced: it was taught as such in Bandung, but it infiltrated itself more spontaneously into Yogya, thus leading, in the latter case, to a larger share being given over to the ethnic component. All the Balinese artists included in the show were educated in Yogya, thus adding a supplementary layer to their adoption of the modernist principles of art. As the exhibition hopes to make clear, it is by its modern symbolic expression, derived from the traditional local cultures, that Indonesian modern art makes a significant contribution to international art.

Among the selected artists, two are from Bandung, Srihadi Sudarsono and Sunaryo, while the rest consists of Yogya-educated Balinese, Nyoman Gunarsa and Made Wianta, as well as the younger Nyoman Erawan, Made Jirna, Made Budiana and Darmika, all of whom, with the exception of Darmika, are well-established names in the Indonesian art world. The only newcomer is Darmika, whose star has risen only in recent years.

Srihadi Sudarsono

Of the eight artists participating in the exhibition, the name of Srihadi Sudarsono comes first. At 76, ever-productive, he is an important name in Indonesian art history. He began his career in the late forties as an illustrator of the national liberation struggle. In the early 1950s, while still a student in Bandung, it was his cubistic works that brought the accusation that the Bandung School was a laboratory of the West. After a short stint in the United States, where he studied on a scholarship, he settled into a long period of symbolic "color fields": in the most typical of these works - most of which were "horizons" - the layers of color, classical tools of minimalist abstraction, were enriched by barely visible figurative elements (offering, temple etc), so as to convey an impression of cosmic fusion between Man, Nature and the Cosmos. While working on this series, Srihadi became his country's most prominent colorist to the point where he could as in his "social" and "political" series from the 1970s, purposely "uglify" colors in order to convey a strong protest. Today, his concern is meditative, as illustrated by the extraordinary subtlety of his colors: his "Borobudur" series are studies in often barely perceptible color nuances; so that it is through the small white spot of light he puts at the very top of the great temple's highest stupa that the monument comes visually to life, poetically bringing down to us, to earth, the idea of godly transcendence. In his works shown at the museum, the accent is on ethereality, that of dancers between the real and the unreal, moving into the sublime.

Sunaryo

Sunaryo (66) is another star from the Bandung school. His work is characterized by a stunning breadth of skill. A painter, he also has a reputation as a sculptor as well as an installation and performance artist. His painting style, always highly artistic, is no less eclectic than his medium, sometimes abstract, at other times symbolically figurative in a poetic or social way an illustration, if need be, of the fact that the "style" factor is always secondary to the artist's creative power. If Sunaryo's endeavor is often purely aesthetic, via abstraction, he is no stranger to making social statements through his works. One of his favorite themes is the encounter of "tradition over against modernity." He sometimes represents this in a symbolic way as the fight between a red barong mask and the forces of darkness, but in the present exhibition, the point is made bluntly by dancers holding a hand phone - modern reality and its related threat of the loss of cultural memory. Here the accomplished master casts aside, for a while, his aesthetic concerns and has us ponder on Indonesia's cultural future. He leaves the answer open. Another interesting facet of Sunaryo is his role as a cultural activist. His Selasar Sunaryo is one of the most active venues of modern art in Bandung.

Nyoman Gunarsa

The most senior Balinese artist at the exhibition is Nyoman Gunarsa. He was also the first Balinese to study at Yogyakarta's ASRI art school, where he was later appointed as lecturer. ASRI's lecturers all insisted on the need to "indigenize" Western influence and therefore refused to practice pure aesthetic research, as do