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A Maestro Remembered

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Indonesia just lost one of his greatest painter when I Nyoman Gunarsa passed away _____
last September. Hellobali visits Nyoman Gunarsa Museum of Classical and Modern Art and discovers his true legacy.

“Museum is the centre of civilization. To learn about your civilization, you should to go the museum,” said the late I Nyoman Gunarsa after he received a visit from President Joko Widodo at his privately funded museum. The President was reported immensely impressed by the historically significant remnants from the golden age of Balinese artistic period which Gunarasa had curated and collected over the years. He ordered The Ministry of Education and Culture to pay a special attention in preserving and renovating the collection of the museum together with the family of I Nyoman Gunarsa. Sadly, the maestro who was known by his fine expressionist paintings, passed away at the age of 73.

The forlorn museum is partly hidden from the street. The village of Takmung isn’t exactly known as a tourist destination nor does it hold any remarkable significance for the Balinese. But, it should be. For the thre stories museum holds what is left of the legendary Balinese artistry from the 15th century to the contemporary. Visitors are few and the museum is left to its own device to survive. The museum’s guide-cum-groundkeeper, Gusti Ngurah Mayun, warmly welcomes me when I ashamedly tell him that this is my first visit. He generously keeps me company during my stay. “It is my job to tell the stories of our collection,” says the Takmung-born man who has worked in the museum for more than 15 years.

On the first floor, impressive collection of fading classical Balinese paintings is framed. Some of them are almost as long as the room itself, telling myths and stories as well as occassional history from the bygone era of the powerful kingdoms in Klungkung, Singaraja, Kerambitan, and Karangasem. Curvaceous kris with gold handles, leather shadow puppets from 18th century, an intricately carved set of gamelan which once belonged to the King of Karangasem, all of them are astonishingly exhibited in a casual, bric-a-brac fashion. Precious wooden carvings from temples and palaces are displayed alongside wooden doors and statues. There is no sophisticated lighting, no climate control, no embossed fancy labelling, but the quality of the artworks speaks for itself.

“Pak Nyoman thought it is important for these Balinese masterpieces to remain in Bali. He travelled far, sometime even to Europe, as soon as he heard that a Balinese artefact was being sold,” tells Gusti. Gunarsa’s effort in preserving the legacy of Balinese artworks was relentless. He even managed to find some fragments of Kamasan-style paintings which used to decorate the ceiling of Klungkung’s famous justice hall, the Kertagosa, just 4 kilometres away. Apart from the classical collection, the museum also housed some of Gunarsa’s famous expressionist paintings. Due to the threat of Mount Agung eruption, these collections are currently kept in the storage near a grand amphitheatre at the back of the museum. The grandeur of the stage contrasts with its serene surroundings of lotus pond and garden.

“Pak Nyoman thought it is important for these Balinese masterpieces to remain in Bali. He travelled far, sometime even to Europe, as soon as he heard that a Balinese artefact was being sold”

On the other side of the building, a visitor can find Gunarsa’s private residence as well as his studio. A blank square canvas is still standing at its easel, untouched by the maestro who still wanted to paint during his last few months, even when hospital visits were becoming more frequent. Several unfinished canvases are gathering dust in the far corner of the studio. What will become of this vast and priceless legacy of I Nyoman Gunarsa, no one knew. But for now, paying a visit to this museum and its priceless collection is a must, especially when you want to learn more about the true art of Bali.

Nyoman Gunarsa Museum of Classical and Modern Art
Jalan Pertigaan Banda No. 1 Takmung,
Banjarangkan, Klungkung
T: +62 366 22256/+62 366 22255


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