UBUD, BALI: The huge sign is hard to ignore but, somehow, every time I was in Bali, I ended up overlooking it. But not this time round. Standing outside Ubud Market, it reads Blanco Museum 900 meters.
“Mas, let’s go to the Blanco Museum,” I said to Mas Komang, my driver for the day around Bali.
Out of Ubud Market’s parking lot, through the circuitous roads, pass the arch that read Antonio Blanco, up the meandering entrance and we were at the entrance of Blanco Museum in about five minutes. A guard came to open the door of the Avanza for me.
“Selamat siang Ibu,” he greeted me politely. “Please buy the ticket there.”
Addressing Mas Komang, he said “Mas, memarkir mobil di sana silahkan,” and pointed to the inclined path on the right.
The Blanco Renaissance Museum is the long-time dream – one article clipping called it an obsession – of artist Don Antonio Blanco who crossed over before he saw the fruition of his dream, succumbing to a lingering illness at the age of 72 in 1999. The Don of Bali was of Spanish descent, his family hailing from Catalonia, Spain. However, he was born in Ermita, Manila, in the Philippines on September 15, 1911 when his family settled down in the city after the Spanish-American war. After completing his high school in Manila, he pursued his education in the National Academy of Art in New York, after which he traipsed across the globe to further his studies and answer the spirit of the traveler within him. His travels led him to the quaint town of Ubud in 1952, which, back then, had vast lands of rice terraces and steeped in cool climate that appealed to the hearts of artists near and far.
Don Antonio never left. He was totally smitten with the exotic island and the famous Balinese dancer Ni Rondji who became his eternal muse, part-time model and mother of his three daughters Tjempaka, Orchid and Maha Devi, and son Mario. One daughter followed in her mother’s footsteps while Mario took after the Don of Bali. His paintings now form collections of art enthusiasts in Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, Japan and Europe.
Don Antonio endeared himself to the locals including the King of Ubud who was moved to grant him two hectares of land above the spot where two streams meet forming the river of Tjampuhan (or Campuan). The family hilltop house with thatched bamboo roof and manicured gardens is behind the aviary. I was told that the Doña still lives there as well as Mario while two of the daughters have migrated to Australia. He was “also good friends with President Sukarno,” Mas Komang told me when I returned to the SUV.
The museum’s facade is a gargantuan marble gate sculpture of the Maestro’s signature says the brochure. Up the flight of stairs and inside, Don Antonio’s self-portrait greets every visitor to the marbled-floor-and-pillar museum as the voice of Andrea Bocelli wafts through the air. A curator or art gallery owner would probably gasp in horror at the set up because of the lack of air conditioning to protect the paintings, but they’d probably be agreeable to the lack of spotlights (they can do damage to the paintings in the long run). But, I presume, everything in the museum is in homage to the iconoclastic vibe of the Don who, after all, was the paradigm of an iconoclast. As for the paintings – it’s a walk through Don Antonio’s fantasy world highlighted by his fascination with the Balinese dancer.
The centerpiece of the two-storey museum is the largest painting of a Balinese dancer he has ever done. Entitled Balinese Dancer, it depicted the dancer, in an ankle-length traditional clothe wrapped around her tight waist, holding an incense burner and a Balinese drum in the foreground with Sanskrit writings. The paintings that follow focus on the perky, almost symmetrical breasts of the Balinese dancer, which is the result, I later learnt, of years of rigorous training in the dance movements. Most are untitled and the titled ones are quite, depending on your sensibilities, risqué, erotic or humorous: The Maiden and the Bullfrog, Eve and the Apple, and Odalisque. Eve’s Apple is Still Intact would scandalize the prudes especially if they read the caption:
Geometric shapes influence us greatly. A nude girl enveloped within a horizontal oval would affect us were it upright. Square or oval or rectangular, the girl, the glass flask between her loins, voila! Another of Blanco’s erotic fantasies.
I stood behind the fountain and looked at the entrance to the museum after the tour. I wondered what the Don would say or do if he were alive. One thing is certain though, the staid visitors would get shaken and the laidback ones would have a riot of a time.
The Blanco Renaissance Museum Campuan Ubud, Bali – Indonesia 80571 Tel: +62 361 975502 | Fax: +62 361 975551 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.blancomuseum.com | www.marioblancobali.com Hours: 9am to 5pm daily including weekends and public holidays Fee: Rp50, 000 Note: No photo-taking inside the museum Photography by Liana Garcellano