Bhupen Khakhar

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

Indian artist and writer Bhupen Khakhar’s career began in the ’60s, but some of his works might seem to be from an earlier time. An oil on canvas titled Royal Circus, 1974, looks like something Henri Rousseau, that classic “primitivist” of Western art, could have painted nearly a century ago. In Khakhar’s painting, a man accompanied by an odd-looking animal of enormous proportions plays a strap-on keyboard. He appears to sing as the beast stares at us with its tongue hanging out of its mouth. Neither funny nor sad, the two companions stand in the middle of a round arena; no audience is seen. The painting’s faux-naive and populist quality allows Khakhar to position himself as a deliberate outsider to modern tradition, treating it as an airy fantasy.

A turning point in Khakhar’s career came in 1981, when the seemingly unsophisticated stylization of Royal Circus was replaced by a visually more

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