NYOMAN MASRIADIUnstoppable, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 200 × 300 cm. Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York. 

Nyoman Masriadi

Paul Kasmin Gallery
USA Indonesia

NYOMAN MASRIADI, Serta Merta, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 508 × 762 cm. Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York. 

NYOMAN MASRIADI, Asset Family, 2014, acrylic on canvas, 200 × 300 cm. Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York. 

The allure and charm of Indonesian artist Nyoman Masriadi might be in his inherent rebelliousness—the compulsion to do the opposite of what one is told and a strong aversion to hierarchy and rules, regardless of the reasoning behind them. This might be a characteristic that traces back to growing up during the Suharto era (1967–98), where three decades of authoritarian rule under the eponymous President meant a restriction on freedom of speech as well as many other areas of life. The spirit of rebellion has worked well for Masriadi, as he has reached the pinnacle of Southeast Asia’s contemporary art in recent years, with soaring auction records, awards and representation from a New York gallery. In his current exhibition of paintings, at Paul Kasmin Gallery, who represents the artist, Masriadi shows seven paintings from 2013 through the present.   

The exhibition is divided into two sections. Closer to the entryway, the first area opens up to three horizontal paintings dating from 2013 to 2015. These paintings, which show Masriadi as an artist of narrative, depicts satirical scenes all involving some sort of interrogation. In Unstoppable (2015), one man in a white shirt stand in between two large men. The muscular man on the right threatens the white-shirted figure with a knife. Meanwhile, the person on the left, whose sunglasses signal him to be an anonymous lackey to the muscular man, holds the middle figure in a tight grip. Speech bubbles come out of the muscular man and the white-shirted man, though they are incomprehensible to most viewers as the words are in Indonesian. A thought bubble from the white-shirted man reads, in English, “so…this is it!”—either denoting his ultimate demise, or confirming a conclusion he had been expecting. The two older paintings, Serta Merta (2013) and Asset Family (2014), differ from Unstoppable in that, though both portray similar scenes of conflict and tension, they are much more light-hearted due to their brighter colors and the depiction of facial expressions that are less intense, leaning more towards the comical. On the other hand, Unstoppable, in which the male figures’ every vein and facial imperfection are hyper-accentuated against a black background, with the abuser and the abused locked in a fierce gaze, is much more ominous.

The second room contains four canvases, all painted on a vertical format and each containing one character, thereby focusing more on the personas of the figures rather than a narrative. Old Master (Angry Samuro) andBounty Hunter, both painted in 2016, are mythical and more stylized, as each man resembles super-hero figures with their glossy, dark, body-suit-like skin and combat weapons. The color scheme of both paintings are muted, with dark browns, taupe, and dark greys. These two figures are more sculptural in their presence within the gallery, like monumental bronze guardians akin to talismans or totems. Death Clock (2015) and Not Bad (2015) are more in line with Masriadi’s signature satirical strain, where the men portrayed in the two works, as with many of the characters in his narrative paintings, seem to take themselves a little too seriously.

Despite the variation in tone within all of the paintings, Masriadi’s works all teeter between the extremely threatening and the extremely comical. A casual passerby may look at the stylized figures, with their bulgy cartoon eyes and exaggerated facial expressions, and find them downright hilarious. Yet, when looked at more closely, the fine details that the artist painstakingly depicts—every pore, scar and imperfection on the skin of the figures, along with the mysterious doodles that exist in all of his paintings—can all of a sudden appear quite heavy, seemingly carrying within it something more sinister.

Perhaps the works would have benefitted from a much closer hanging, so that they could have conversed and reflected off of one other, as each piece is loud and ripe for such engagement. The display of Masriadi’s works in the pristine, white cube with distanced spacing felt like an overlooking of the raw energy and mind of the artist that birthed the dynamic paintings. 

Nyoman Masriadi’s solo exhibition at Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, is on view until June 18, 2016.

NYOMAN MASRIADI, Not Bad, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 225 × 125 cm. Courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York.