Art collector Suteja Neka launched his eponymous museum in 1982, thankfully showing the foresight to preserve and document Bali's artistic legacy. He's done a pretty good job, too, housing one of the island's finest collections of art, which presents a vividly illustrated introduction to the history of Balinese painting styles and so much more. Within extensive gardens elevated up in hills near central Ubud, the 300-plus works here are exhibited in individual pavilions of Balinese architectural design, laid out in traditional village compound style. Very much adhering to a museum emphasis, artworks are well-organized and displayed in a historical sequence—easy to follow with signs and a clear museum map—presented as the artistic development of regional Balinese art forms, but also framed within the broader context of Indonesian art history.
The focus of the collection is fine art inspired by Bali, with work by Balinese natives joined by Indonesian and foreign artists. Balinese art ranges from classical puppet figure and Batuan-style paintings to contemporary naïve and abstract art from Balinese artists such as Pande Ketut Taman; a pavilion is dedicated to sculptor and architect I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, said to be Bali's most famous artist. Indonesian artists inspired by the culture, land, and life of the island are also well-represented: Important Indonesian master artists include sculptor Hendra Gunawan. The Indonesian Contemporary Art Hall shows Javanese and Sundanese contributions, revealing the region's diverse range of styles. Of course "usual suspect" Bali-based foreign artists past and present, with their distinctive hybrid styles, are also well covered, including Swiss artist Theo Meier and the Australian Donald Friend; an entire pavilion is dedicated to the Dutch-Indonesian artist Arie Smit. The Neka's founder gets his own portraiture room, and there's a permanent display of heirloom and modern keris (daggers), which are highly symbolic in Indonesia culture.
This is a lovely, sleepy museum, where amazingly you may well end up having art pavilions all to yourself; set aside at least 1 hr. to leisurely walk through. Afterwards, panoramic views of a rain-forested valley from the outdoor café terrace are worth lingering over.