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Singha. Donation 1973 from Ejler Bille Singha. Donation 1973 from Ejler Bille

Feb 14 - May 17, 2020 E. Bille & A. Therkildsen's Balinese Collection

Bali was special to Ejler Bille og Agnete Therkildsen. They often spend long periods of time on the island. And they collected Balinese items, which they donated to Holstebro Kunstmuseum.

Ejler Bille (1910-2004) and Agnete Therkildsen (1900-93) were enthusiastic travellers who journeyed around Europe, North Africa and China. Bali, however, became a very special place for them, and their Balinese collection was built up over a long period of time. It consists of items acquired on the island from 1972 onwards, including artworks purchased for Holstebro Municipality for the museum from early 1974, when it was decided – through the mediation of the then museum consultant Poul Vad – that “the collection of Balinese art would be a very exciting and unusual addition to the museum.” The artist couple had been visiting Bali since 1970, and their private collections were transferred to the museum on an ongoing basis via letters of donation in 1973, 1977 and 1981. 
Bille’s own abstract surrealist art was already represented in the museum at this time, and because Vad wished the museum’s collection to create a space for artistic dialogues across time and space, the decision to donate the collection was obvious. In this sense, the Balinese collection points to the links, both artistic and human, that exist between a modernist avant-garde artist and traditional Balinese art. Right from the opening of the museum in 1967, a loaned selection of items from sculptor Poul Holm Olsen’s collection of traditional African art was included in its permanent exhibition, but Bille and Therkildsen’s Balinese collection was the first collection with roots outside Western culture to be formally inventoried at the museum. 
Bille transferred the final item to Holstebro Kunstmuseum in 1998, and a further 53 items were subsequently donated after Bille’s death in 2004. Today, the collection comprises a total of 213 main item numbers, behind which lies a whole universe populated by painted wooden figures of gods, heroes and demons, masks, temple fixtures, tapestries, astronomical calendars and shadow play figures. 
Bali’s many forms of dance and drama play a crucial role. They originally developed in the 11th century when Hindus came to the island and mingled with the original culture. In the 16th century a further wave arrived, consisting of aristocrats and artists who had fled Java and the Muslim princes. They brought with them their ancient Hindu-Javanese court culture, which can be traced in the sophisticated Balinese choreography and mask art, performances on literary models and the diversity of melodic and rhythmic structures of the so-called gamelan orchestras. 
Although Hindus constitute a national minority in Indonesia, as many as 85% of Balinese are Hindu, with hybrid rituals that also incorporate elements of Aga animism and Indian Buddhism. A portion of the items in the collection may be attributed to folk art as it is practised in the island’s mountainous regions. This everyday art has a different character to the refined court art of the lowlands, although these are interconnected, including in practice. They tell of a complex culture in which life, mythology and art are completely inseparable. 
The exhibition Ejler Bille & Agnete Therkildsen's Balinese Collection presents items from the Balinese collection together with works by Bille, Therkildsen and the couple’s local Balinese friend and artist, Anton Kustia Widjaja (1935-84). The items are presented side by side with quotations from Bille, in which he describes life and art in Bali.