Barli Museum: Bandung, West Java

Just 110 unsold works of the late artist Barli Sasmitawinata remain in Bandung’s Barli Museum as part of an exhibition held since the painter died earlier this year, aged 85.

According to his daughter-in-law, Agung Wiwekaputra, the family doesn’t want the masterpieces to go on the market. But the pressure to sell remains, for many collectors are keen to buy works from the exhibition.

There’s been no slump in enthusiasm for the artist and his work since he passed away on Feb. 8.

A steady stream of local and overseas visitors to the museum continues, and the fact that the artist is deceased seems to spur additional curiosity. Field trips from elementary through senior high schools are also frequent.

“The number of visitors has remained constant prior to and since Barli died,” Wiwekaputra said, though she didn’t reveal the actual figures. “We’re proud of this, because so many are young people keen to know more about his work.”

It was Barli’s dream many years ago to start a museum, but the idea took time to germinate. The proposal was supported by his large family and by Charles Ali, a young architect who gave shape to the concept in 1992.

Barli was born in Bandung and educated in the Netherlands and France. One of the principle visions of the Barli Museum was to provide a showcase that would demonstrate how his painting style had developed over the decades.

He started with realism, and then moved through impressionism and into expressionism. Rural lifestyles were a hallmark of his art.
Early in his career (he took up the palette in 1935 while still a teenager), Barli became a member of the seminal collective, Lima Bandung Kelompok (Bandung five).

Other members of the grouping were master impressionist Affandi (1907-1990), perhaps the most acclaimed Indonesian painter from the last century; social realist Hendra Gunawan (1918-1983), who featured the lives of ordinary people; landscape artist Wahdi (1917-1996), and Indonesia’s “of realism” Sudarso (1914-2006), famous for his portraits of beautiful women.

The Barli Museum later became a center for the appreciation of the finer things in life, promoting and celebrating the history and development of art in the Bandung region.

The facility has also helped strengthen the public’s appreciation of art and the important contributions made by creative individuals to the intellectual life of the nation.

Many events and activities have been held in the museum. Among them have been exhibitions of arts and crafts for sale, formal and informal discussions on art and culture, and meetings to raise social, economic and technical issues.

Space has been allocated for visitors and locals to talk about developments in science and the arts. It also has shops selling souvenirs and other merchandise, and rooms for training, ceramics and publishing.

The Barli Museum’s efforts have been part of an endeavor to boost art appreciation in Indonesia, to conserve important works for their historical and cultural values, and to commemorate Barli’s name as a critical figure in Indonesian painting.

“Up to now, all the students who have come here want to know more about painting and have been encouraged by what they’ve seen and learned,” said Wiwekaputra.

“Although the number has not yet reached the hundreds, since Barli passed away we feel that interest is increasing.”

As so often happens in the art world, the value of an artist’s work generally escalates after their death, and when enthusiasts are keen to buy from limited stock.

This certainly holds true for Barli; many collectors are vying for his artwork and their value has jumped sharply — although the museum will not sell from its collection.

The same thing happened when Hendra Gunawan died 24 years ago. While he was still active at the easel, prices for his art remained static, but following his death, some of his creations reached a staggering Rp 1 billion (US$110,000).

Art connoisseur Heru Hikayat from the Bandung Institute of Technology said holding back the work of a deceased painter was a market strategy. Staging a retrospective featuring aspects of the artist’s life would also help boost prices.

Ranking equally with the Barli exhibit are the museum’s activities promoting appreciation of fine arts and creating a center of excellence and education. These were the lifelong goals of the artist, who co-founded the fine arts department at the Bandung teachers’ college in 1961.

Heru said he hoped the Barli Museum would help enhance the reputation of Bandung as a center of culture, joining other public and private collections to consolidate the West Java city’s fame.

Bandung already has a geology museum and the Sri Baduga Museum, which has a collection of artifacts, old manuscripts and historical farming equipment used by Sundanese farmers.

Meanwhile, the Mandala Wangsit Siliwangi Museum has preserved weapons and artifacts from the independence struggle. Bandung also has a philately museum and the Asia-Africa Museum, the latter of which holds an historical collection from the inaugural 1956 Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung.

Other fine arts galleries in the city include the A.D. Pirous Gallery, the Pohaci Studio, the R-66 Gallery, the Hidayat Gallery and the Selasar Seni Sunaryo Gallery.

Besides learning more about art and culture, and enjoying and appreciating the celebrated painter’s works, visitors to the Barli Museum can discover more about the artist’s life and philosophy by reading the 2004 biography, Kehidupanku Bersama Barli (My life with Barli), written by his wife Nakisbandiah.

A separate biography of the artist was published in 2003 as part of a discourse on Indonesian art.

Kehidupanku Bersama Barli features Barli’s work from the 1943-2004 period, and was Nakisbandiah’s special gift to her husband on his 83rd birthday, when the artist held a solo exhibition.

Half the 200-page book is devoted to his work, the rest to comments and tributes by aficionados and supporters, including collector Oei Hong Djien, former education and culture minister Fuad Hasan, academic Jim Supangkat, collector Agus Dermawan, art curator and academic Mamannoor, and the former tourism and culture minister, I Gde Ardika.

Barli Museum,
Jl. Prof. Dr. Ir. Sutami No. 91,

Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., including public holidays.