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Bhupen Khakhar, Bullet Shot in the Stomach, 2001, oil on canvas, 7 1/2 × 11 5/8".

Bhupen Khakhar

Tate Modern

Bhupen Khakhar, Bullet Shot in the Stomach, 2001, oil on canvas, 7 1/2 × 11 5/8".

Walking into “Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All” is like stepping into two worlds at once. The late Mumbai-born, Vadodara-based artist’s paintings provide glimpses of the Indian street, its burning-hot colors teeming with workaday characters. But they also suggest realms of pure whimsy. In Man Eating Jalebi, 1975, an ordinary gentleman sits at a table, enjoying the sticky orange sweetmeat that is a commonplace Gujarati dessert. Yet the turquoise sea behind him, on which bobs a toylike boat, resembles a stage set. Where does fact stop and fantasy begin?

Curators Nada Raza and Chris Dercon indulge in a visionary gesture of their own: Khakhar’s retrospective is the biggest solo exhibition ever to have been dedicated to an Indian artist at the institution. It encompasses paintings, ceramics, book illustrations, and the documentary Messages from Bhupen Khakhar (1983) by Judy Marle.

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