The strength of Balinese art lies in its ability to seamlessly adopt foreign influences: the Museum Puri Lukisan in the cultural town of Ubud shows how Bali's contemporary artists learned and adapted from the gentle influence of expatriate European artists. The story is revealed step by step through woodcarvings and paintings housed in three spacious buildings, linked by walkways through a peaceful garden dotted with lotus ponds and statuary.
Museum Puri Lukisan's central location and significance in Balinese art history help make it a significant stop for Bali tourists intent on exploring Ubud's shopping, dining, and sightseeing. Before checking out the museum's collection, though, you might want to spend some time reading up on Bali's culture.
Exploring the Museum Puri Lukisan
From the street, the Museum Puri Lukisan's façade offers no clue to the compound's contents: you'll enter a large parking lot, then walk through a tiny door into the lowest platform of a terraced garden. The museum compound features a number of buildings - three gallery buildings exhibiting the museum's collection and a balé housing the museum's coffee shop.
You'll buy a ticket at the entrance, then visit the three gallery buildings in a set order. Attendants at the entrance of each gallery building will stamp your ticket as you enter.
The Pitamaha Gallery is set at the northmost point of the compound; its interior houses Balinese art dating from before World War II. The building takes its name from the art association established in 1936 by members of the Ubud royal family and a couple of expatriate artists - Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet (Museum Puri Lukisan's first curator). The association eventually took in about a hundred local artists who were influenced by the expat artists and developed art schools of their own.
The Artwork of I Gusti Nyoman Lempad
Artwork from the early years of the association hangs on the walls of the Pitamaha Gallery. One name crops up more often than any other: I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, whose mural graces the Pitamaha Gallery's exterior. Lempad's oeuvre covers sculpture, painting, and architecture, but the Lempad artwork in the Museum Puri Lukisan consist mainly of the artist's interpretations of Balinese folk tales and Hindu mythology, illustrated as serial narratives stretching over several individual works.
The Lempad mural at the exterior (a copy of the original, now in storage) shows a scene from a Balinese rice paddy, with farmers sowing and reaping rice in a riotous, detailed ensemble. Lempad captures the scene impressionistically but accurately, complete with depictions of religious rituals.
For over 20 years since the Museum's opening in 1956, the Pitamaha Gallery was the only gallery building in the compound; the other two buildings were inaugurated only in 1972.
Modern Balinese Art, After the War
After exploring the Pitamaha Gallery, you'll descend to the Ida Bagus Made Gallery on the west side. The building's collection shows paintings created in the "modern traditional Balinese style", depicting traditional Balinese themes, but displaying the influence of Spies and Bonnet. The figures are more realistic, displaying less of the formal style of more traditional work.
Finally, you'll cross over to the west side of the compound to the Wayang Gallery, which continues the theme of post-war modern Balinese art (this time including sculpture). The gallery also features art done in the "Kamasan" style - a series of works resembling wayang, or shadow puppets.
After exiting the last gallery building, you can circle back to the entrance, where the coffee shop stands in a balé facing the garden. Nearby, you can look through the gift shop, which stocks a number of reproductions, postcards, art books and exhibit catalogues.
Keeping Balinese Art Alive
The story of modern Balinese art doesn't end with the deaths of the museum's founders, whose lives are eulogized fulsomely in exhibits at the Wayang Gallery. (The museum's foremost royal patron, Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati, and its first curator, Rudolf Bonnet, both died in 1978.)
To this day, the Museum Puri Lukisan hosts exhibitions of contemporary Balinese art, foremost among them the Kebiar Seni: a showcase featuring Bali's young traditional artists. Every Kebiar Seni exhibit taps artists from kelompok, or artists' groups, throughout Central Bali, with inspirations drawn from religious epics and Balinese daily life alike.
Visitors who want to explore Bali's art hands-on can sign up for the Museum's art workshops, covering Balinese arts like wood carving, batik making, kite-making, wayang making, gamelan, dance, and classical painting. Prices for signing up range from IDR 100,000 to IDR 350,000 (between $10 to $35), and workshops can last from a half-day to two full days.
The artwork at the Puri Lukisan seems particularly fragile; the buildings on the premises lack air conditioning, speeding up the decay of the artwork housed within. In an interview granted to the Los Angeles Times, museum director Tjokorda Bagus Astika admitted that the weather was doing serious damage to the collection: "Ninety percent of our collection is not in good condition, especially the works on paper.... We need air conditioning and we need to clean the art, but we don't have the money."
The original mural on the Pitamaha Gallery façade was one of time's first victims - the original work by Lempad has deteriorated from the effects of the weather. The mural that stands in front of the building today is a reproduction of the original, executed by Lempad's grandson and installed in 1994.
Location of Museum Puri Lukisan
You'll find Museum Puri Lukisan right on the main road (Jalan Raya Ubud), about a ten-minute walk west from the Royal Palace. A wooden sign on the street signals its presence. Coordinates: 8°30'20.624"S, 115°15'36.4"E (Geohack).
Museum Puri Lukisan is open every day from 9am to 5pm, except for high Balinese holidays like Nyepi, Galungan and Kuningan. Admission costs IDR 10,000 (about $1). Kids under 15 years of age can come in free. Stow your camera flash while inside the museum; visitors are forbidden from taking photography with flash or tripods.
- Elsewhere in Ubud: Explore the town’s finest art destinations, starting with this list: art galleries and museums in Ubud, Bali. For other activities you can do nearby, check out our article on 10 Things to Do in Ubud, Bali.
Contact Information for Museum Puri Lukisan
Jalan Raya Ubud
PO Box 215 Ubud