When Don Antonio Blanco created the Bali Blanco Renaissance Museum, he intended it as a reflection of his raucous, raunchy and creative inner life. Not only would the Blanco Museum house his sexy, humorous artwork, it would also serve as a home and temple for his growing family, one set amidst Central Bali's rice fields, beside the whispering Campuhan River.
If you're in Ubud, Bali, this monument to artistic creativity (or eccentricity, depending on your sensibilities) is worth a two-hour detour. The museum is no staid memorial to Blanco, who passed away in 1999, just before the museum was completed. It is a psychological self-portrait of the master himself: eccentric, wildly creative, and possessing the capacity to both inspire and offend. Above all, the museum, like its master, is deeply devoted to Bali.
- Culture vultures: For additional context, read our article about the culture of Bali.
- Art overview: For other art collections in Ubud you can visit, check out our list of art galleries and museums in Ubud, Bali.
Biography of Antonio Blanco
Don Antonio Blanco's forebears were Catalan - Spanish immigrants to Southeast Asia who had settled in Manila in the Philippines. Blanco was born in Manila and imbibed the arts as he grew up.
After high school, Blanco went on to study at the National Academy of Art in New York, where his lifelong fascination with the female form began. After settling in Ubud, Bali in 1952, Blanco married a famous Balinese dancer and settled down on two hectares of land gifted to him by the Ubud royal court. When he died in 1999, his cremation was a major Ubud event.
- Eternal flame: The Balinese cremation, or ngaben, is a major rite of passage in Balinese culture. Read our article on Manusa Yadnya - Balinese rites of passage.
In his lifetime, Blanco's work has earned him a Spanish knighthood (Cruz de Caballero) and Chevalier du Sahametrai from Cambodia, as well as a Tiffany Fellowship and Special Award of the Society of Honolulu Artists. Today, Antonio Blanco's artwork has won fans among discerning collectors from all over the world.
Grounds of the Blanco Museum
Don Antonio Blanco's personality - court favorite, artistic jester, lover of women - finds expression in both his artwork and the home he built for his family.
The five-acre property beside the Campuhan River contains an art museum, which has an outrageous design that utterly dominates the grounds; a family house; a temple; a restaurant; and a gift shop. If you're lucky, you might meet Mario Blanco (the maestro's son) on the grounds, and he may tell you stories of his father's adventures.
Visitors enter the grounds through a circular gate. They walk through a menagerie of birds and assorted animals before they reach the main grounds, a manicured lawn with a gigantic fountain in the middle, facing a 50-foot green marble sculpture that serves as a decorative gate into the museum. The sculpture is modeled after Blanco's own signature, and the height (in meters) represents his birthday, September 15.
The stairs that climb up to the museum entrance are flanked with naga - snake sculptures - and are painted red at the middle, like a red carpet leading up to a VIP haunt. As you enter, you'll notice golden Balinese dancers at each corner of the roof, and the goddess Saraswati (the Hindu goddess of knowledge, a favorite muse of Blanco's) topping off the whole building.
The Blanco Museum Interior
The museum building blends European and Balinese design, much as Antonio Blanco melded European art and Balinese sensibilities in his work. The interior covers three storeys, all housing different works by Blanco from different periods. It was the Maestro's own wish that his works never be exhibited to the public outside of his own museum.
Blanco wasn't simply a painter, but a consummate artist - he incorporated poetry into some of his works, and some of the poetry isn't fit to be repeated in polite society! Visual riddles and puns are worked into his art, and it takes a keen eye to spot them all. The guide will be happy to explain what you see as you walk around.
Looking around the museum, a pattern emerges of the subjects that fascinated Blanco to the end of his life: women, his own children, and the magic of Bali. The women are by far his most popular subject: unabashedly sexual, some in languid reclining poses.
The artworks' frames seem to be as intricate as the maestro's work - indeed, we are informed that the frames undergo almost as detailed a creation process as the maestro's own art. Indeed, they are masterpieces on their own - creations of gold leaf and delicate chisel work.
Photography isn't allowed in the museum's interior.
Exiting the Blanco Museum
Visitors exit through the art studio in the rear, where they see the master's own atelier, complete with an unfinished artwork that has been left untouched on the easel. The studio remains as it has been since the 1950s; no attempt has been made to renovate it. Finally, visitors will find an exhibit of the Blanco family (father and son) oeuvre.
The museum restaurant and souvenir shop are located near the exit, just across from the family temple and its stepped roof. The restaurant offers a great view of Campuhan from its lofty perch. The family temple is accentuated by a huge banyan tree that was first planted by Antonio Blanco at the beginning of his stay on the property.
Transportation to the Blanco Museum
The Blanco Museum is not along any public transportation routes, so you'll need to hire a car or a motorcycle (ojek) to take you there. Car hires can be found at central Ubud (look for the yellow E circle that designates a member of the Ubud Transport Association), and you can haggle your price down to about IDR 20,000 ($2) for a short trip to the museum and back, with the driver waiting for you as you finish your visit. (More information here: How to Haggle in Southeast Asia).
If you book an Ubud hotel or villa, you're likely to enjoy shuttle rides from your hotel/villa to the museum and back.
An entrance fee of IDR 50,000 (about $5) will be charged upon entry to the Blanco Museum.