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Mahendra Yasa's 'On Language' a rare opportunity for Indonesian art collectors

Richard Horstman
Richard Horstman

Artivist, observes and reports on developments in the Bali and Indonesian art scenes

Jakarta  /  Mon, November 12, 2018  /  03:26 pm
Mahendra Yasa's 'On Language' a rare opportunity for Indonesian art collectors

'On Language' (2018) by Gede Mahendra Yasa (Courtesy Christie’s Hong Kong/File)

Balinese contemporary artist Gede Mahendra Yasa has forged important inroads in Balinese and Indonesian painting with his landmark Miniature Series of narrative paintings he began in 2012.

On Language,2018, his most recent offering from the series, will go under the hammer at the Christie’s Hong Kong Asian Contemporary Art Autumn Day Sale on Nov. 25. For connoisseurs of Indonesian contemporary art, this presents a rare opportunity to collect a painting from his award-winning series.

On Language explores the chronicle of linguistic evolution within the framework of the traditional Balinese Batuan miniature narrative painting style in which numerous small stories harmoniously merge within the one greater composition.

The painting is inspired by the artist’s interest in humanity’s ability to communicate and emphasizes the important role language has taken in both art and in the historical context of the world throughout time. 

“I love linguistics,” Mahendra Yasa stated. “In On Language, I want to analyze language, especially in art history.”

'On Language' ( 2018 ) by Gede Mahendra Yasa'On Language' ( 2018 ) by Gede Mahendra Yasa (Courtesy Christie’s Hong Kong/File)

A depiction of the Tower of Babel, well known for its myth elaborating upon the origins of languages, at the top of the canvas anchors the composition in which he then uses diverse iconic references, including popular culture and social symbols relating to linguistic development, expanding down and across the work. On Language, lot #150 of the Christie’s Asian Contemporary Art Day Sale is a large 190cm by 250cm oil on linen painting with an estimated value of between HKD 380,000 and 550,000, or US$49,000 and $70,000.

The market’s response to the recent auction of Mahendra Yasa’s works in the Asia reveals strong demand from collectors of Indonesian contemporary art who appreciate the unique value of his paintings which have sold for well above their estimated prices.

In May 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong Asian Contemporary Art Day Sale, "After Paradise Lost #1"(2014 - 2016) acrylic on canvas 250cm x 190cm was sold for HKD 1,240,000 ($158,000). Its estimated price was between HKD 350,000 - 500,000 ($44,500 -  $63,500).

During Christie’s Hong Kong Asian Contemporary Art Day Sale in November 2017, "Origen's Gambit” (2016-2017) 250cm x 190cm acrylic on canvas realized HKD 1,750,000 ($220,000), up from the estimated price of HKD 380,000 - 550,000 ($48,000 - $70,000).

Read also: Christie's Hong Kong to auction rare 1871 Raden Saleh painting

After Paradise Lost #1was short-listed for the Asia-Pacific Breweries Signature Art Prize 2018, along with works by 14 other artists from a total of 113, and originating from 40 different countries. The colorful and complex painting of everyday life intertwined with history merges traditional, with modern and contemporary painting techniques to depict an imaginative universe complete with tales from Balinese, Indonesian and global art history.

While After Paradise Lost #1, the only painting work within the 15 finalists, did not win the Grand Prize, or the Jurors’ Choice Awards, it won the People’s Choice Award, announced at the National Museum of Singapore on June 29 for receiving the most votes by members of the public while the 15 finalists works were on exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore.

“After Paradise Lost #1 is part of a series that Mahendra Yasa started in 2012 in which he appropriates the most critically acclaimed genre of Balinese traditional painting – the Batuan style to speak critically about the position of Balinese art in Indonesian art history,” said Indonesian curator, and nominator of the painting, Agung Hujatnikajennong.

"The mix of elements commonly represented in the Batuan style, as well those in tourist postcards and materials, also refers to how Bali, an ‘island of paradise’, is a site for the convergence of different influences and cultures, both local and global, due to tourism.”

“I believed that the Balinese traditional styles had become stuck so I challenged myself to contemporize Balinese painting through the Batuan genre,” Mahendra said. “I then realized that the series could be used for telling stories about art history [Balinese, Indonesian and global art history]. My inspirations came from the American painter Mark Tansey, and also the comic genres, such as Marvel and DC Comics, and how they make alternative universes. I wanted to mimic their method to create my own universe – an art history universe.”

'On Language' ( 2018 ) by Gede Mahendra Yasa'On Language' ( 2018 ) by Gede Mahendra Yasa (Courtesy Christie’s Hong Kong/File)

Mahendra has carved a unique path within the development of Balinese contemporary art. As an atheist and outsider, he has always maintained a critical approach to both his culture and "narratives" in the Balinese art world. He has dared to scrutinize Balinese art like no other artist, being driven to question these popular narratives, along with the status quo.

Born in 1967 in Singaraja, North Bali, representing a new generation of the Balinese avant-garde, Mahendra was inspired by the artistic freedoms available after the fall of president Soeharto and the new order regime in 1998. A self-taught artist, between 1998 and 2002 he studied at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Denpasar. He is compelled to continuously investigate and then seek out new frontiers in Balinese painting, in a career long pursuit into its thematic and aesthetic distinctions. As an art provocateur it has been essential for Mahendra to pose important questions in order to move forward, as well as to inspire others to look more critically at Balinese art.

In his monumental 2014 solo exhibition, Post Bali,Mahendra Yasa defined himself as one of the few, truly important Balinese contemporary artists, while confirming his position within Indonesian art history.

Post Bali combined an array of Western and Balinese painting styles through which he revealed his investigation of Bali, utilizing various appropriations in his works that have been internationally recognized as modern or contemporary art masterpieces. He has been instrumental in the formation of the influential Bali art collectives Klinik Seni Taxsu 2001-2006, the Neo Pitamaha 2011 on going, and NU-abstract 2017 on going.

Mahendra stands apart from other Indonesian contemporary artists because of his distinct methodology in delving into local issues from a western conceptual art perspective.

Bidding in the auction is available over the phone and through an online real time portal via the Christie’s website. (kes)



Place: Grand Hall, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, No. 1 Expo Drive, Wanchai, Hong Kong

Date: Nov. 25, 10 a.m. (Lots 101 - 267)


Place: Grand Hall, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, No. 1 Expo Drive, Wanchai, Hong Kong

Date: Nov 23, 10:30 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.; Nov 24, 10:30 a.m. - 7 p.m.



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.