Bhupen Khakhar and the New Tate Modern

International painting is at the center of this year’s Tate program: Georgia O’Keeffe, Francis Bacon, Maria Lassnig, and Robert Rauschenberg are being honored with major exhibitions. In addition to these prominent positions, the museum is presenting an artist who has yet to be discovered by Western audiences: Bhupen Khakhar. Thirteen years after the death of the Indian painter, Tate Modern, in cooperation with Deutsche Bank, is showing why the autodidact is one of the most important artists of the subcontinent.

Khakhar revolutionized Indian art. In the 1960s, he was the first Indian painter to combine his country’s traditional art and mass culture with Western Pop art. He caused a sensation at the beginning of the 1970s with paintings like The De-Lux Tailors (1972) and Barber’s Shop (1973). His loving portraits of hairdressers, tailors, and watchmakers affronted the cultural establishment because at the time lower-middle-class people were not considered worthy of portraits. Later Khakhar, who is represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection, broke further taboos. He conveyed his homosexuality just as forthrightly as his cancer. So it’s no surprise that during these years the artist had difficulties finding a gallery in India that was willing to represent him. You Can’t Please All is the title of the show in London. It sheds light on all five decades of Khakhar’s artistic career, presenting paintings and watercolors as well as ceramic works. The exhibition will be on view at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle starting November 18. It continues Deutsche Bank’s cooperation with Tate Modern showcasing artistic positions from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The collaboration began in 2014 with the presentation of Meschac Gaba’s trailblazing installation Museum of Contemporary African Art.

This global perspective also characterizes the Tate Modern’s new orientation. The museum is using the opening of its new building to reposition itself. The outgoing director Chris Dercon set the course. In a statement for ArtMag, he explained that the museum of the 21st century is “a new type of public space, one for social play and innovation, facilitating new forms of art, creativity and thinking. The displays of art from across the world, regardless of geography, will allow new connections to be made, so we understand better our own place in the world.“

In more than 55,000 square meters of additional exhibition space, the expansion, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, enables the museum to show contemporary art in a new way – more comprehensively, more internationally, more femininely, more performatively. Thus, for example, Carl Andre’s brick sculpture Equivalent VIII (1966) is on view together with Saloua Raouda Choucair’s Infinite Structure (1963-65). In this sculpture, composed of twelve tuff modules, the Lebanese sculptor combines Western influences (she studied under Léger) with the abstraction typical of Islamic cultures. New acquisitions like Babel, a tower by the Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles consisting of more than 700 radios, and Malangatana Ngwenya’s untitled painting in which he thematizes his home country Mozambique’s bloody war or independence, also reflect the museum’s new orientation.

Only four of the eleven stories of the extension, which is called Switch House, consist solely of exhibition space. In the three giant oil tanks in the basement of the former power plant, primarily performances and films will be shown. The other floors will accommodate events, seminars, educational offers, as well as a shop and a restaurant. With a huge panorama terrace, the top floor commands a magnificent view of the London skyline all the way to Wembley stadium. The opening on June 17 will be celebrated with a three-week program of events, including performances by Tarek Atoui, Amalia Pica, and Roman Ondak, Deutsche Bank’s “Artist of the Year” 2012.

Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All
6/1/2016 – 11/6/2016
Tate Modern, London

11/18/2016 – 3/5/2017
KunstHalle, Berlin