Bhupen Khakhar and the Indian collector pushing for international recognition
In 2016, the work of artist Bhupen Khakhar was featured at Tate Modern — a show sponsored by the likes of the Deutsche Bank and the KNMA (Kiran Nadar Museum of Art).
“You can’t please all”, led by Tate’s Nada Raza, was the first ever retrospective dedicated to the Indian painter. Forbidden subjects, such as homosexual affairs, rendered Khakhar's work un-exhibitable in his native India, but at the Tate, five decades of his life, “private corners” and all — as he liked to say — were on display. This major exhibition on Khakhar, a self-taught artist, managed to cover all of his diverse influences and practices: from Pop art, to collage and installation, it created a sustained narrative recounting an Indian artist confronting class and sexuality.
Largely responsible for Khakhar's success — and that of numerous Indian artists — is Kiran Nadar, India’s most important collector.
H A P P E N I N G spoke to the art collector and philantrophist, dressed to the nines, on the three works that she lent to this major exhibition.
How did you get to know Bhupen Khakhar and his work?
I had seen a lot of his exhibition catalogues, I became quickly enamoured with his work and his aesthetic. I didn’t begin collecting frantically right away as I normally do. I bought my first canvas in 2004, I then acquired 30 more works, which is quite slow for me.
Would you consider yourself a compulsive buyer?
American Survey Officer (1969) / Night (1996) / Republic Day (1970) — from Kiran Nadar Museum of Art collection
It feels like the KNMA is making an effort to extend its international presence. Are you hoping to show your collection abroad?
Yes we are reaching out, we’re also involved with the Nasreen Mohamedi exhibition at the Met right now. There are a few projects with museums in Germany, and maybe with the Musée Guimet in Paris; I’m open to all offers and we are ready to look into any possibilities of other private museums sharing their collections with us. But I will only ever collect Indian art.
Do you sometimes feel like the only patron in India financing such projects? Why are there not other entrepreneurs willing to fund the arts?
It is true that I often feel like I am alone in my vision. I think entrepreneurs around me can only consider profit, they feel no obligation to support the arts and I don’t think that they realize that the State can not pay for everything and that they have great responsibility. We need people in India who are capable of creating foundations and to have their acquisitions serve the public good. We are the only ones supporting initiatives in the artistic domain. There are some good initiatives in India though, the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai is extraordinary and maybe one day we’ll see the Museum of Calcutta actually come to fruition.
Your collection seems to demonstrate a love for the freedom of artists: we can find liberated women such as Mohamedi and Sher Gil, or men who openly display their love of the same sex...
I am attracted to the fact that artists are without barriers, they work freely with disregard for social convention.
What can we expect to see at the KNMA in the coming months?
Our next exhibition, beginning in August, will be a retrospective of artist Jeram Patel, who recently passed away. I have a large collection of his work. In February 2017 we will show Pakistani artist Rashid Rana.
There have been rumours of a major exhibition at the Centre Pompidou on Nalini Malani after the museum bought a work during the exhibition “Paris, Bombay, Delhi”, will you be involved in the organization? I know you have already displayed her work.
I don’t know yet, we are still in talks with them.