Bhupen Khakhar show at Tate Modern 

Tate Modern, London, presents the first international retrospective of Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar since his death, with Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All.

(Photos courtesy: Tate Photography)

Nada Raza, Director, Tate Modern and co-curator of the exhibition. Photo courtesy Tate Photography
Nada Raza, Director, Tate Modern and co-curator of the exhibition. Photo courtesy Tate Photography

WHAT:  Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All

WHERE:  Tate Modern, London

WHEN: 1 June – 6 November 2016

(Supported by Deustche Bank and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, which is also a lender to the exhibition; Additional support from the Bhupen Khakhar Exhibition Supporters Circle) 

A reception was held on 31 May 2016 to celebrate the opening of the exhibition by renowned Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar at the world famous Tate Modern, London. It was followed by a seated dinner hosted by the Tate’s South Asian Acquisitions Committee including co-chairs Lekha Poddar and Rajeeb Samdani. Sir Nicholas Serota Director of Tate Museums and Galleries was there alongside new Tate Modern Director Frances Morris and former Tate Modern Director Chris Dercon who curated the exhibition alongside Nada Raza. Kiran Nadar was joined by many members of the arts fraternity from India (Shireen Gandhy, Aparajita Jain, Priyanka Raja, etc) as well as artists Howard Hodgkin and Timothy Hyman, who both knew Bhupen Khakhar well and Salman Rushdie, who was painted by Bhupen Khakhar in 1995.

Author Salman Rushdie, his son Zafar and Chris Dercon, outgoing Tate Modern Director and co-curator of the exhibition. Photo courtesy Tate Photography
Author Salman Rushdie, his son Zafar and Chris Dercon, outgoing Tate Modern Director and co-curator of the exhibition. Photo courtesy Tate Photography

Tate Modern’s first international retrospective of Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar (1934–2003) since his death, Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All (1 June – 6 November 2016) brings together the artist’s work from across five decades and collections around the world, including major works on canvas, luminous watercolour paintings and experimental ceramics. Said Kiran Nadar, Chairperson of the KNMA, “We are extremely pleased to be part of this iconic Bhupen Khakhar show. His work is immensely significant in the pantheon of Indian art and we are delighted to be lending important works from the KNMA collection to the Tate show.”

​Renowned for his vibrant palette, unique style and bold examination of class and sexuality, Bhupen Khakhar (1934­2003) played a central role in modern Indian art but was also a key international figure in 20th century painting.

An artist and accountant

Bhupen Khakhar's American Survey officer
Bhupen Khakhar’s American Survey officer

Born in 1934 in Bombay, Khakhar lived in Baroda (Vadodara), where he completed an MA in Art Criticism at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Siyajirao University, which was an important artistic centre. Khakhar continued working part­time as an accountant until his artistic career became established. After experiments with collage, Khakhar’s early paintings depicted the ordinary lives of workers and tradesmen, such as ​The De­Lux Tailors​ 1972​ and Barber’s Shop 1973. His portraits captured the modern male subject with extraordinary pathos, echoed in the hollowed eyes and piercing gaze of Hathayogi 1978 or​ Man with a Bouquet of Plastic Flowers 1975. As he gained confidence as a painter, Khakhar went on to combine popular and painterly aesthetics, absorbing diverse art­historical influences with ease, from Indian miniature and devotional iconography to 14th century Sienese painting and contemporary pop art. He evolved an engaging figurative style, part of a new wave of narrative painting and figuration that moved away from the modernist canon in vogue in Bombay and Delhi.

You Can’t Please All—A gay confession

Khakhar was part of a lively community of artists and writers in Baroda where his home became a gathering place to meet and exchange ideas, even for visiting artists such as Howard Hodgkin and Dexter Dalwood. Khakhar spent six months as artist­in­residence at the Bath Academy of Art which cemented his links with contemporary British artists. Following his time in Europe, he painted the seminal work You Can’t Please All 1981, depicting a life­size naked figure on a balcony watching characters from an ancient Aesop fable. This confessional painting signalled Khakhar’s self­-awareness as a gay man and suggests the personal difficulties he faced at the time.

Khakhar was influenced by Gandhi and was committed to relating the truth as a guiding principle. He confronted provocative themes, particularly his homosexuality, with honesty, sensitivity and wit throughout his career.

Works like ​Yayati ​1987 show mythical figures in frank and fantastical portrayals of same­sex love. The large­scale diptych Yagnya ­Marriage 2000 depicts a traditional celebration and feast in a small town with two men receiving a blessing, while smaller watercolours such as Flower Vase 1999 and ​Grey Blanket 1998 are more intimate visions of same­-sex desire.

A storyteller & collaborator with Rushdie

You Can't Please All 1981 by Bhupen Khakhar
You Can’t Please All 1981 by Bhupen Khakhar

Also a writer and playwright, Khakhar was dedicated to storytelling and the illustration of the world in detail. He worked with Salman Rushdie on a special edition of two stories for which the artist produced a series of wood­cuts. Towards the end of his life, Khakhar also made works that expressed his very personal battle with cancer. Works such as​ Bullet Shot in the Stomach 2001 and ​At the End of the Day the Iron Ingots Came Out 1999 show the realities of living with his illness in characteristically unflinching detail. The final work in the exhibition, the small gold hued painting ​ Idiot​ 2003, expressively combines beauty, rage and irony as one character laughs at another’s grimace of pain.

Khakhar’s work was shown in​ Six Indian Painters at the Tate Gallery in 1982 and in​ Century City at Tate Modern in 2001. Tate acquired his iconic painting You Can’t Please All 1981 in 1996. Alongside the exhibition, other recent acquisitions from South Asia will be shown in the new Tate Modern’s displays this summer, including works by Sheela Gowda and Sheba Chhachhi.

(Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All ​is curated by Chris Dercon, Director, Tate Modern and Nada Raza, Assistant Curator, Tate Modern. It will be accompanied by a fully­illustrated catalogue from Tate Publishing and a programme of talks and events in the gallery. The exhibition will travel to Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle in Berlin in November 2016.) 

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