Tate Modern | Ends 6th November 2016 | £12.00
If ever there was an example of an exhibition that splits opinion it is the Tate Modern's Bhupen Khakhar; You Can't Please All. The title itself suggests the Tate anticipated such a response to this retrospective featuring five decades of Khakhar's work . This is somewhat due to the lack of cultural references available in the show to provide the western viewer with insight into this Indian artist's influences. A culture removed is left with limited context in which to view the show.
Bhupen Khakhar (1934-2003) is recognised as a key figure in the modern Indian art movement highlighting provocative themes of sexuality, illness and social class. Bright colours and out-of-scale objects are a distinctive trait of his work animating their modest subjects featuring shopkeepers; barbers, tailors, watchmakers and the like.
His figurative style can be described as simple, even naïve and has been associated to the Pop Art movement and the work of David Hockney in particular. This is partly down to the western need to categorise the unknown with a familiar reference point in order to understand. There are similarities to such work, but in fact Khakhar's influences are so varied that defining them is extremely difficult. One similarity that most agree on is the clear comparison to French primitivist painter Henri Rousseau.
Khakhar provides an intimate portrayal of himself and his surroundings openly exploring his sexuality within his work, touching on the personal and cultural implications of same-sex intimacy within Indian society. Actually You Can’t Please All (1981) is named Khakhar’s ‘coming out painting'.
This landmark exhibition showcases vivid works on canvas, luminous watercolour paintings and experimental ceramics. Bringing together Khakhar’s work from across five decades and collections around the world for the first time since his death.
The final room is worthy of particular mention, in which Khakhar confronts his five-year demise through cancer. These late paintings of illness A documentary of the artist filmed in 1983 is also on display
This show has been questioned by critics who query Khakhar's credentials for a show of this magnitude. An alternative opinion should be offered, one that reflects the Tate's commitment for driving contemporary art in new directions. It should be recognised that the Tate have moved swiftly to present the first international retrospective since the artist's death.
Gallery of Rogues (1993) by Bhupen Khakhar