Mention Bali and visions of aquamarine waters, surfing beaches, magical sunsets, Hindu temples, rice terraces or luxury resorts like Banyan Tree Ungasan and Samabe Bali Suites & Villas spring to mind. Situation in a green heart of Ubud, in close proximity to villages and paddy fields is an attraction like no other. It fills your senses with another dimension of Bali.
The Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA) is a portal into the arts, culture and communities of the Island of the Gods. This Balinese living museum fills its head with works of art that resonate with a garden body and appendages that sing, dance, create music and procreate art. There is so much to experience by day and by night that guests often stay overnight in the Museum's resort and villa accommodations.
A collection of artworks is housed in two large traditional Balinese-style buildings. Well labelled in English and Japanese, they include paintings by Balinese, Indonesian and foreign artists acquired by the ARMA foundation and also works on loan from the private collection of Mr. and Mrs. Agung Rai. A guided tour of the galleries with an art lecture and refreshments is available upon prior reservation.
The first building features the evolution of Balinese art from traditional monochromatic black and white to contemporary colour. You can view classical Kamasan painting on tree bark, Batuan-style work from the 1930s and 1940s and rare works by Balinese masters such as I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, I Gusti Made Deblog, Ida Bagus Made and Anak Agung Gede Sobrat.
Painting of Javanese nobleman and his wife by Raden Saleh
You can also view works unavailable anywhere else in Bali including those of 19th century Javanese artist Raden Saleh and Syarif Bustaman. Raden's most enigmatic portrait of a Javanese nobleman and his wife, which predates the similar American Gothic by decades hangs tall on the gallery wall.
The second building documents early western influences on Balinese art and contemporary works. You can meet foreign artists who lived and worked in Bali through their masterpieces. They include Willem Gerard Hofker, Rudolf Bonnet, Adrian Le Mayeur and Willem Dooijewaard.
Exit the museum and you're immediately transported to old Bali, complete with green serenity, spread over 5 hectares. Balinese art transcends the canvas and the artist's' mind-eye into the natural and landscaped gardens.
They represent an evolving interaction between nature and the Balinese artists. Intricate and ornate sculptures of stone are touched by mossy fingers or caressed by petals, and vines of leaves interlace to form green canopies over the stone bridge.
Balinese art is not a static form in the Agung Rai Museum of Art. Beyond the galleries, local painters and woodcarvers continue to perpetuate the medium through illustrations of daily life in Bali and ornate designs on wood.
You can also learn more about the various traditional art forms and ancient handicraft including the making of daily offerings using bamboo and leaves, Balinese painting, wood carving, make a piece of Balinese batik, lontar leaf painting, basket weaving, egg painting and silver jewellery fabrication.
Music and dance is integral to Balinese daily lives and children can often be seen practising legong dance and playing the gamelans in the Museum grounds. You can also participate in similar workshops such as learning to play a short tune on the gamelan and Rindik, a Balinese gamelan instrument made of bamboo tubes.
The most unique experience of Balinese art and culture is undoubtedly the 'Golden Hour' with the founder of the Museum, available only to its resort's guests. Other cultural immersion workshops hosted at Agung Rai Museum of Art include the cooking of traditional Balinese dishes and lunch, yoga classes, Hinduism practices in Bali, Hindu method of astrology and traditional Balinese architecture.
Delivered by locals, the traditional Balinese performances are also a highlight of Agung Rai Museum of Art. The most famous, fiery and explosively engaging is the 'Kecak Rine Dance', which only takes place on a Full Moon and New Moon. Another is the choreographed dance drama 'Topeng Jimat' by I Made Jimat, one of the renown dancers and actors of the great classical Balinese dance masters.
Other performances include the 'Legong Classic', 'Legong Telek' and 'Barong and Kris Dance'. All these performances are conducted at the Museum's open stage by local, visiting Indonesian and international art troupes. Dinner arrangements in one of Museum's onsite restaurants can also be included with the shows. Agung Rai Museum of Art is undoubtedly the best place to immerse in the important elements of Balinese culture and tradition in Bali.
At the centre of it all beats the heart of a man who has pursued the preservation and development of Balinese art, culture and communities for over 40 years. Founded by Agung Rai, the Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA) is the manifestation of his tireless pursuit. Many of the paintings in the permanent collection are personally sourced and returned to Bali from various locations and collectors around the world.
The objectives of ARMA Museum and the founder are aligned - to collect, preserve and develop the art of painting, sculpture, dance, music and various other cultural art forms in Bali for generations to come. Instead of funding from the local and national government, ARMA is totally dependent on income generated by the Museum, resort, restaurant and activities, with every dollar made going to the ARMA Foundation which manages the entire venue.
This continuous effort by the Foundation and Agung Rai has created more than a centre for visual and performing arts or an internationally renowned museum of Balinese and Indonesian culture. ARMA is a community and cultural epicentre of Ubud and Bali.