The contemporary art market has always been a hazardous place populated with commercial cowboys, wannabe experts and Bohemian flotsam and jetsam. The sad truth that of the 100 most promising artists of today flouted in periodicals and exhibitions, only four or five will still be known in 20 years. Like an overloaded ferryboat, as new artists push to get on board, the old ones fall off and disappear into the misty wake of an already leaky ship.
The art market is about hype and superlatives. Be especially careful when you hear comparisons to the great – the Picasso of Peliatan, the Matisse of Mengwi and the Botero of Batuan. The last thing you should buy is derivative art. There is only one Picasso and he is not Balinese. Of course all art is influenced by that which precedes but unless the artist forges some new interpretation of identity that is relevant to him and his time, an Impressionist painting in 2012 is at best a pretty anachronism.
One of the most interesting new young painters on the Bali Arts Scene is Wayan Kun Adnyna. Born in Bangli, Kun has racked up a lot of praise and awards for his newest work that feature multihued muscular Balinese men with pulsing six packs. The scenes are dynamic and mysterious, the latter enhanced by the use of masks or no facial features whatsoever. These gangs engage in common Balinese male pastimes – drinking, wrestling and eating. They are figurative but highly stylized, decorative but also full of elegant forms and traditional but also modern.
The work shows certain similarities with Kun’s Balinese contemporaries particularly Nyoman Masriadi and Putu Sutawijaya whose work also focus on the human body but is by no means dependent upon them. Whereas Masriadi is far more influenced by comic book heroes and video games, Kun’s is more akin to classical art well grounded in human anatomy and compositions. These can also be compared to the reliefs of the Borobudur Temple, which were “borrowed” by Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian works.
Kun’s work also addresses the confusion of being Balinese in the 21st century. Like the Balinese anthropologist, Degung Santikarma, he literally and figuratively wrestles with the burden of fulfilling the stereotype images of what it means to be Balinese struggling between adat and the modern world just like the temple festivals being squeezed between Pertamina Petrol Stations and Real Estate Agents selling 25 m2 condohotels with guaranteed 25% ROI!
In one work entitled the “Last Supper” a central faceless figure surrounded by 13 disciples in a lotus asana sitting on mats around Balinese dulang pedestal tables raises his hand in the abaya mudra that signals “Have no Fear”. Kun also incorporates Lilliputian and fantasy figures as seen in “The Way of Enlightenment” (Jalan Pencerahan). Here a lone figure with a surprised expression swims for his life in a rough ocean. Surrounded by fish, with one on his head, a volcano explodes in the distance. He cups a small human figure carrying a cross before him. Make no mistake Kun is a Balinese Hindu. His crucifixion is not symbolic of a secret urge to convert but rather the fear of being a sacrificial victim of the pressures of post-modern life in a tourist paradise.
Aside from being one of Bali’s upcoming artists, Kun is also a major intellectual who regularly contributes articles to newspapers and magazines. He is also in the process of finishing his PhD in Jogjakarta’s prestigious Art Academy (ISI) where he lectures on art.