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Bhupen Khakhar

Bhupen Khakhar, Window Cleaner, 1982, oil on canvas, 36 × 36".

A GOOD OLD-FASHIONED KERFUFFLE erupted last May when the English critic Jonathan Jones, in a pithy and cantankerous screed in The Guardian, categorically dismissed an exhibition of works by the late Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar at Tate Modern as “a waste of space.” Khakhar’s paintings, in this critic’s view, were “emotionally inert” and “stuck in a time-warp of 1980s neo-figurative cliché.” The only reason they could possibly be on display, he conjectured, was “some misplaced notion that non-European art needs to be looked at with special critical generosity.”

Jones’s article inspired a tornado of counterattacks from members of the tightly knit South Asian art community. Writing in The Wire, Geeta Kapur, the éminence grise of Indian art historians, accused Jones of embracing “discarded art-historical categories.” (“The critic’s eyes are dull, his judgment embarrassing,” she fumed.)

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