Tue, 06 Aug 2002

RI artists find new success in Singapore

Boudewijn Brands, Contributor, Singapore

Two solo exhibitions by Indonesian artists were recently opened in Singapore. Nyoman Gunarsa is exhibiting about 60 of his works in a former military barracks converted into a large and beautiful show area. Three days earlier, after work hours, a solo exhibition by Hanafi was also opened.

There are obvious differences between the two -- the space displaying Hanafi's works is very different from the National Gallery in Jakarta where he recently had a solo exhibition. It is a one-room gallery on the third floor of the Stamford Building, close to the Singapore Art Museum and the National Heritage Museum. The sparsely decorated room is 120 square meters and is large enough to stage a performance as was done at the opening by reputable performer Otig Pakis.

The gallery, Chateau d'Art, prepared Hanafi's introduction carefully. On show are 21 new works and in relatively small sizes with prices that are, in Singapore terms, quite affordable: S$2,800 to $7,300. But the most interesting aspect is that some of these works are much more poetic and lyrical than the sometimes coarse abstracts he creates in Indonesia. This is especially the case with his Study for distance series. Example No. 83 is a splash of red in blue surroundings and No. 82 is a composition of yellow-browns with architectural stripes in the center.

Contemporary art curators, defending Hanafi's abstract work, like to point out the strong brushstrokes. However, it takes much more experience and feeling in the expressive power of color to be able to make work that is more tender or sensitive. His is, in spite of what some commentators seem to call the "more commercial" effect it gives.

At first sight, Nyoman Gunarsa's work, for those focusing on contemporary art, may seem just decorative. But the artist has come a long way. During the opening in Singapore, the artist worked more than he talked: He made portraits of visitors, showing that his hand "knows what it does". Luckily, he had time to give his hand a rest and discuss his work with The Jakarta Post. He is retired and had a stroke. Earlier this year, art historian Dr. Helena Spanjaard stayed several weeks at his house to prepare his biography. He explained the artistic stages in his life.

Born in Klungkung, Nyoman Gunarsa was familiar with traditional Balinese painting, but this bored him so he sought to meet Western artists like Bonnet and Le Mayeur at the end of the 1950s. This caused him to study at the Art Academy in Yogyakarta from 1959 on. He became a teacher there and retired in 1994. He describes his first period of life as academic, the second as offering and the third as aringgit or the puppet period. He feels that the third period has influenced some of his pupils from that time, such as Heri Dono and Nasirun.

The fourth period is the movement-in-space period, which many see as his trademark era and it is his works from this period that are on offer in Singapore, priced from $4,950 for a 59 centimeter by 74 cm watercolor on paper to S$29,800 for large oil canvases, measuring 145cm by 145cm or 175cm by 125cm, excluding frames. His retirement and illness have made him more free and have lead him to the last and current period: moksa or freedom with identity as a creator. Didier Hamel of Duta Fine Arts was the first to write a book about him. A new book on Nyoman Gunarsa would do justice to his newly found freedom as well as the art and historical impact that he has made. There is certainly a buyer base to support this kind of publication as he was very productive and still is today, and many people own his works. They may be willing to pay for an insertion of their work in such a book as has been the case for Arie Smit. When asked, he estimated that he had made at least one thousand works in each period. He sees himself as being very productive and a fast worker.

Indonesia has also scored in another contemporary art field. On several occasions, The Straits Times has focused on choreographer/dancer Boi G. Sakti, who got a budget of S$700,000 for staging the world premiere of his 70-minute work titled Reminiscing The Moon. This piece is produced in collaboration with the Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) and the performance will be staged at the opening of the new arts center on Raffles Avenue, called Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay. So it will also create a first impression of this space as an international arts center coming in October.

Expectations are running high and the dance theater general manager hails Boi as "one of Asia's emerging choreographers, celebrated for creating a new language for Asian dance" as quoted by the Times. Given their ability to renew, is it not time that Indonesian artists took over the Indonesian government?

Hanafi's Diary will run through Aug. 11 at Chateau d'Arts, 39 Stamford Road #03-01, Singapore 178885 (www.chateau- darts.com.sg). Open Tues. to Sat. noon until 6 pm, Sundays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Nyoman Gunarsa's exhibition Movement in Space continues through Aug. 11 at Linda Gallery, Blok 15 Dempsey Road #1-03, Singapore 249675 (lindagallery@yahoo.com). Open daily 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.