Khakhar: Bhupen Khakhar’s painting of Indian working classes drinking from chai is expected to fetch crores at Sotheby’s auction

LONDON: An oil painting by Bhupen Khakhar titled “Krishna Hotel” depicting ordinary Indians having snacks and chai on battered-looking cafe tables, which has not been seen in public since 1972, is expected earn crores when it is auctioned at Sotheby’s in London on October 26.
The estimated price is £ 200,000 (Rs 2 crore) to £ 400,000 (Rs 4 crore). But it is expected to make a lot more in the live auction.
“Krishna Hotel” dates from a turning point in the artistic career of Mumbai-born Khakhar – the start of his “commercial series”, in which the working classes of India, who had for the most part been excluded from the sophisticated realm of art, suddenly found a place for themselves in his paintings.
The artist’s first commercial series to appear on the open market, “De-Luxe Tailors”, was sold at Sotheby’s in 2017 for £ 1.1million (Rs 11 crore).
“Krishna Hotel” is part of the collection of Christopher Benninger, an American expatriate and architect based in Pune, who designed many of the most important buildings in South Asia for almost half a century.
Benninger bought the painting shortly after it was painted in 1972 at a small painting auction at the New Order Bookstore in Ahmedabad.
The exhibit was curated by store owner Dinkar Trivedi to support Bangladeshi refugees who were flocking to India at the time. Khakhar was not known at the time but was Benninger’s friend. Benninger first traveled to India in the 1960s when he met a number of artists from the Baroda group, including Khakhar.
Khakar did not hit the international market until 2016 following an exhibition at Tate Modern and Benninger has overlooked the work’s value until now.
“In 1972, I saw this painting as a radical break from the drab, lifeless, and often geometric modernism that swept the world,” Benninger said. The proceeds will be used to create a non-profit foundation to support artists across South Asia.
“‘Hotel’ is the colloquial term used by working class Indians to describe a cafe, especially in small towns, where the emerging middle and working classes have mingled,” said Ishrat Kanga, head of art. modern and contemporary from South Asia at Sotheby’s London. “The radio, a luxury at the time, sits above the patron of the cafe, next to a framed photograph of one of the patron’s ancestors, another distinctive sign of bourgeois aesthetics.
“‘Krishna Hotel’ appears at first glance as a social painting, and yet is imbued with a disturbing sense of isolation and loneliness, both by the physical space that divides hotel guests and their sad expressions,” Kanga said.

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