After perusing the auction catalogues last week and still feeling nauseated from reading the astronomical prices demanded by Bali's expatriate master painters (namely the Walter Spies painting from Christie's, The Landscape And Her Children, which is expected to fetch up to $8 million), I was relieved to receive an e-mail from Patrick Chouinard of Chouinard Gallery about a show by one of Bali's indigenous painters, I Ketut Tenang, with prices that are closer to Earth.
We hear so much about the region's political and ethnic turmoil that it's refreshing to know contemporary painters still pursue their artistic endeavours despite the negativity around them.
According to Chouinard, who's generally known in the dealer's circle for purveying abstract works, Bali is a rich source of contemporary talents who depict simplicity and sensibility rather than angst and hatred. It reminds me of the Vietnamese artists who survived through the country's wrath; their serene paintings reflect the artists' yearning for peace and stability.
Tenang is one such artist. His exhibition is inspired by Javanese women. With broad strokes, Tenang calmly executes romantic figurative works depicting women in twos or threes, the only subtle difference between them are the colours of their dresses and a slight variation of gesture. I am not going to say there is some complicated hidden message behind these simplistic works because, quite frankly, I don't think there is. But maybe that's what they mean by art for art's sake. Tenang's works are lovely to behold and, as one Paris-based Chinese painter once told me, the world is complicated enough that art shouldn't add to the burden of the viewer. It's okay for a painting to just look pretty.
Chouinard says that in the past, Tenang's works have sold extremely well against the usual abstract fare he features because, first, Hong Kong buyers still seem to be weary of abstract, as if they can't identify what they are looking at, and second, his expat clients love Tenang because they 'want to buy paintings that remind them of places they have been to'.
I suppose nothing says 'I have been to Indonesia' like a work depicting Javanese women. And priced at about $10,000, it's a small price to pay for a lovely memory.