Bali is one of the world’s great cultural capitals, and Ubud is its soul. It’s the most accessible place for visitors to learn about the unique way of life on the Island of the Gods. Activities like traditional dance and temple-spotting are at your fingertips. But Ubud is also the center of traditional Balinese art — and Ubud art museums are the best place on Bali to get a taste of it.
The sheer number and variety of art museums in Ubud can be overwhelming. In this post, I’ll provide an overview of the major Ubud art museums, which ones are worth shelling out for, and how to make the most of your time.
Neka Art Museum
If you only visit one museum in all of Indonesia, make this the one.
Neka has a huge collection of Balinese art — both traditional and modern. And of the Ubud art museums, this one does the best job of presenting its collection to art newbies and idiots like me.
The museum’s galleries run in rough chronological order. You start with puppet-style painting, which typically depicts scenes from the Ramayana and other Hindu and Buddhist epics. Next is transitional Balinese painting. These first two galleries are well-explained with placards so you can clearly see the evolution of the art.
Next, you’ll see Ubud and Batuan works. The Ubud style is where you’ll start to see Western influence crop up.
Once you work your way through the traditional galleries, you’ll see some more modern Balinese art. The museum has a huge collection of “Young Artists”-style paintings — they were born out of Arie Smit’s work with children to create vividly colorful works, hence the name. Most Ubud art museums feature a couple paintings of Smit’s, but seeing how his influence evolved an entire new style of painting was fascinating. It’s where the Neka Museum really shines.
Finally, there are a few other galleries focusing on modern Balinese art and more broadly, modern Indonesian art. If you’re stretched for time, these are not essential.
Unlike the other Ubud art museums, Neka is in a pretty boring setting. No glamorous gardens or cute cafes. Here it’s all about the galleries themselves.
The Neka Art Museum charges 75,000 rupiah for admission. It takes about three hours to thoroughly explore all the galleries. The first four galleries are the largest and the most interesting, and include the most detailed explanations.
You can reach the Neka Art Museum from central Ubud by taking the main road out of town and walking about 20 minutes north. On your way there or back, take a stroll through the rice terraces and stop by Sari Organic for a meal or a juice.
Museum Puri Lukisan
Perhaps the most visited of the Ubud art museums (although it still feels empty), Puri Lukisan is another fantastic place to get an overview of Balinese painting.
The majority of this museum’s collection is from pre-World War II, although there’s a small gallery of modern painting. Puri Lukisan also hosts special exhibitions (of varying quality and okay to skip if you’re short on time).
Placards beside each painting explain what it’s meant to depict. The East Building has a lot of puppet-style painting, and the placards explain not only the paintings, but the legends behind them. So it’s a good place to learn your Southeast Asian folklore as well.
Interspersed with the paintings are incredible wooden statues. Some are quite simple, while others depict entire legends. If you like sculpture, it has the best variety of all the Ubud art museums.
The setting is gorgeous — the open-air galleries are set around gardens and small ponds. You can feel the breeze waft in off the palm trees as you wander around. Your ticket includes a drink at the on-site cafe, so you can enjoy the gardens and a cold (non-alcoholic) beverage after you visit the museum.
Allow about two hours to see everything — an hour and a half would be sufficient if you skip the less-interesting South Building and its special exhibitions.
Museum Puri Lukisan charges 85,000 rupiah for admission. It’s right in the center of Ubud, a couple blocks down from the Ubud Palace. Stop by Gelato Secrets on your way out for a treat!
Agung Rai Museum
Art enthusiast Agung Rai has assembled quite the amazing private collection at this stunningly situated Balinese art museum.
The Agung Rai Museum is a little more eclectic than the first two museums on this list. For one, it’s more weighted toward modern art — and I don’t just mean room after room of Arie Smit works. In fact, there’s an entire room of 21st-century art! There is also a (relatively small) collection of traditional painting, if you haven’t had enough of that yet.
This museum is also the only one of the major Ubud art museums to feature a textile gallery. Unfortunately, most of the weavings are poorly labeled and explained, but it’s still a nice change of pace.
The real highlight of the Agung Rai Museum is the atmosphere. The museum shares its grounds with a resort and a beautiful garden. A couple pavilions host gamelan (traditional orchestra) and Balinese dance rehearsals for children — visitors are welcome to watch. It’s a beautiful, relaxing place to wander around for half an hour while you decompress from the noise and pollution of central Ubud.
It only takes about an hour and a half to see everything at this museum. Admission includes hot or iced coffee or tea at the cafe, and you could certainly spend more time exploring the grounds. If you don’t have the budget or aren’t a huge museum fan, this is the most skip-able of the three major Ubud art museums.
Tickets to the Agung Rai Museum cost 60,000 rupiah. It’s south of central Ubud. Continue along the main road past the turnoff to the Monkey Forest. Walk about 15 minutes more and turn left when you see the sign. It’s convenient to combine this museum with a visit to the Monkey Forest — come on, I know you want to risk getting rabies just for some cute baby monkey photos!
Blanco Renaissance Museum
Okay, here’s the deal: Antonio Blanco was a weird dude. But he was also a major contributor to the expat artists’ movement that helped shape Balinese painting. The Blanco Renaissance Museum showcases his work.
If you’re a fan of Salvador Dali, you’re likely to enjoy this Ubud art museum. It occupies Blanco’s former home, including his family temple.
I didn’t get to visit this museum — it was further out of the way, I’d already been to four other museums, and I didn’t really have time. I heard mixed reviews from others, and enjoyment levels seemed very much to depend on how much you enjoy Dali’s artwork.
The Blanco Renaissance Museum costs 80,000 rupiah to visit. It’s just a few minutes’ walk outside central Ubud, along the road to the Neka Museum.
Good news if you’re on a tight budget — you can still enjoy Ubud’s art museums! The Neka Gallery features a smaller but equally broad selection of works as its bigger cousin, the Neka Art Museum — for free!
It was hard to tell how big the gallery was — no one was around when I visited and the lights were off in several galleries, but there were still a handful of tourists in them. Still, three rooms were clearly open. They featured historical paintings as well as more modern ones and, of course, a few Arie Smit pieces.
It only takes about 30 minutes to see the whole gallery, located across the street from BudaMart. After your visit, get some healthy organic food (or just a good pizza) at Bali Buddha, a five-minute walk away.
Tips for visiting Ubud art museums
With the number of tourists who visit Ubud, it’s absolutely shocking that the art museums are all but empty. I had the Agung Rai Museum all to myself at 4 pm. I shared the galleries at the Neka Art Museum with maybe ten other visitors. Puri Lukisan was slightly more crowded around 2:30 pm, but not annoyingly so at all.
Of course, the art museums aren’t the only places in Ubud to see Balinese painting. There are countless small galleries. Modern artists sell their work in tourists shops and even on the streets. However, the quality varies widely — if you’re interested in purchasing any artwork, I’d definitely recommend visiting the museums to see the really professional work first so you know what to look for.
Photography (without flash, of course) is generally permitted, and you’re always welcome to photograph the gardens and architecturally impressive exteriors of the galleries. Don’t go too crazy with the selfie sticks though — remember, most people are here to appreciate and learn about the artwork, so be respectful of that. Some individual rooms prohibit photography.
A visit to Ubud would be incomplete without checking out a couple of the art museums and learning about Balinese painting. Even if you don’t know much about fine arts, this is a good place to learn. And since Balinese art is deeply interwoven with the culture as a whole, you’ll get to know this magnificent island a little better while you’re at it.
Have you been to Ubud? Did you visit any art museums? Leave a comment!
Like this post? Pin it!