This season, Christie's is proud to present two superlative works of indonesian contemporary painter I Nyoman Masriadi in this sale that span the thematic and visual expressions of the artist. Masriadi's brand of humour and visual wit is pointed yet subtle, direct yet coy, emerging clearly in the various guises of the painted figures that inhabit his painterly world. Well-established as a figurative painter, Masriadi's decade-long practice of painting figures of various types has yielded a number of memorable pictorial characters amongst whom includes the plump protagonist in Uang Segar (Fresh Money). What is rarer is that she is a female, distinguished from the rest of Masriadi's predominantly male figures with elaborately sculpted figures.
Uang Segar (Fresh Money) (Lot 1413) dates to 2007 and brilliantly distills elements of visual wit, humour and the comical in the portrayal of a single iconic figurative subject and the evocation of a memorable scenario. Uang Segar is an irrepressibly eloquent caricature of the new rich, the capitalistic bourgeoisie. The sole painted figure is a plump brown lady clutching a wad of cash in her raised left hand. With her left arm raised, palm closed and knuckles facing outwards, the protagonist in Masriadi's picture references Maneki Neko (??), the Japanese fortune cat.
The most common belief surrounding the fortune cat is that a raised left paw attracts and draws in the flow of wealth, while a raised right paw protects and secures wealth. Maneki Neko is oftentimes depicted holding a gold coin termed a koban (pP) that signifies an abundant amount of wealth. Masriadi has crafted the protagonist in Uang Segar in a similar way. She clutches a wad of indonesian 100,000 rupiah notes, with three more wads stuffed in her pockets and her left chest. On the bottom left of the work is inscribed the text '1 GePOK=10 JUTA', translated as '1 bundle = 10 million'. The approximate value of each wad of 10 million indonesian rupiahs is 8,700 Hong Kong dollars.
Immaculately packed sacks in the background echo the full, top-heavy and overflowing figure of the subject. She dons a safari hunter's hat in white and a pair of boots with spurs, in jarring contrast to tight blue jeans wrapped around a pointedly protruding bottom and a tight spaghetti top; alluding to a sartorial sense that is still catching up with her wealth. Masriadi's explicit visual and textual clues lead viewers to a compelling reading of the protagonist's character as a gross stereotype of a bourgeois class, oftentimes termed as Orang Kaya Baru (OKB) in indonesia.
If the realist depiction of the figure is the pinnacle of development in the classical arts of the west, Masriadi's figurative works illustrate a markedly different ideal in contemporary figurative painting. The body is the vessel of social critique, and the embodiment of a specific personal response to observed reality. This can be seen all through Masriadi's oeuvre, not only with Uang Segar.
Executed in 1999, Untitled (1945-?) (Lot 1414) is an early Masriadi work, completed shortly after he left art school in Yogyakarta and returned to Bali, his birthplace, to paint. Masriadi enumerates a sequence of years, starting from 1945 to 1998 and finally culminating with a question mark in place of 1999, in a suggestive commentary for the contemporaneous moment. The numbers serve as a highly original pictorial device not only to represent his personal circumstances where he had recently exited art school and had to make tough decisions on life and work, but also seemingly representing the ambiguity about the indonesian state, established in 1945 and facing one of its stiffest challenges in the 1999 transition to democracy which saw ethnic, sectarian violence and massive upheaval in society.
Many of Masriadi's paintings are autobiographical to varying extents - oftentimes, the artist invests episodes, experiences and sentiments from personal life into his paintings, realigning them as visual allegories. Seen in light of this, both Uang Segar and Untitled (1945-?) stand as important paintings in Masriadi's oeuvre, particularly pliable and necessary to a fuller understanding of the artist's personality, history and psyche.