Bali’s art and culture in motion at Asian Art Museum 

Showcasing art works such as a phantasmagorical winged figure from a temple door, a carved offering shrine and coin images of deities, the Asian Art Museum’s upcoming Bali exhibition seems to be all in motion — different from the static feel that sometimes characterizes museums.

In Bali, there is no separation between visual and performing arts, making the title of the show, “Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance,” both descriptive and complete.

Opening Feb. 25, the show’s 130 works on view deal with sacred and secular dances, parades and court ceremonies. Music and performances, including puppetry, gamelan (percussion orchestra) and masked dances accompany the exhibition.

Considering Bali’s historic fame for its artistic culture, it’s surprising that this is the first such comprehensive exhibition in the U.S. The Asian Art Museum is the exclusive venue.

Borrowed from international collections and never before seen in this country, the works include woven and carved images, gilded chairs and shadow puppets.

Referencing famed anthropologist Margaret Mead’s description of Bali rituals, museum director Jay Xu says, “Her observations in the 1930s may seem tinged with romanticism today, but the richness and vibrancy of the cultural traditions of the island are as evident now as they were then.”

Curator Natasha Reichle dealt with the difficulty of presenting certain “living” objects in a museum setting, a scenario in which the objects are separated from the forces that originally gave them meaning.

The issue came up particularly around objects whose independent powers come into play in the midst of ritual or performance. She says, “The Balinese do not view a statue as a deity in its own right, but merely as a receptacle for the visitation of the divine.”

During the course of the exhibition, the museum’s education department is working with the Bay Area Balinese community and artists from Bali to present demonstrations and performances.

Among the more notable participants is Grateful Dead drummer and music producer-activist Mickey Hart. He produced the album “The Bali Sessions” and donated part of what is perhaps the only gamelan jegog (all-bamboo ensemble) existing outside Bali to the Oakland orchestra Gamelan Sekar Jaya, a key participant in the museum events.

“Bali is not harmonious, homogenous and static,” Balinese scholar Degung Santikarma wrote. “It is — and has long been — the home of many competing strands of thought and many different ways of being Balinese. It is an ever-changing mosaic, shifting its design to meet new ideas imported from outside, whether they be the Chinese-derived barong figure, or the old Chinese pis bolong coins used in offerings, or the Harley Davidsons and heavy metal that make up today’s youth culture.”


Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance

Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco

When: Opens Feb. 25; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except closed Mondays and open until 9 p.m. Thursdays; closes Sept. 11

Tickets: $7 to $17

Contact: (415) 581-3500,

Note: Gamelan Sekar Jaya performs at 6 p.m. March 3; 3 p.m. March 6; 7 p.m. March 11 and 2 p.m. March 12.

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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