Google Bhupen Khakhar and for the longest time, a website called bhupenkhakharcollection.com would be at the top of the list. Even today, the website created by American professor Brian Weinstein is among the top five go-to sites for information on the late artist. It incorporates not only images from Brian’s collection of Bhupen’s work, but also articles from a plethora of publications, interviews with those who knew him and the artist’s own writings. The other websites featuring Bhupen Khakhar are courtesy art galleries, but Brian’s site is personal, lovingly put together and professionally maintained.
It’s been nearly 20 years since Bhupen died of prostate cancer, but Brian continues to fly down to Baroda from Washington DC every year. “I have more friends in Baroda than I do in Washington,” he says. “Bhupen introduced me to so many people here and I’ve remained friends with them even after his passing. Baroda is a wonderful city and I like spending time here.”
Brian’s latest acquisition is a water colour painting by Bhupen, a self-portrait in which the gay artist depicts himself in a sari. The painting belonged to an Australian collector and Brian bought the piece at a Christie’s auction. How much did it cost? Brian is coy about revealing the value of his collection, but says, “I research and focus on acquiring art I can afford. I collect works by Bhupen or related to Bhupen. I have some wonderful portraits of Bhupen done by other artists in Baroda.”
After a two-year break on account of the pandemic, Brian is back in Baroda this month. This time he is buying a portrait of Bhupen created by upcoming artist Subrat Kumar Behera. I meet up with the two of them at Subrat’s studio, where an early version of the work is on display on the wall (see pic). “Subrat has really worked diligently on this painting,” says Brian. “I see him going places in the years to come.”
For most of his career, Brian was a professor of political science at Howard University, Washington (he has since retired). He is also a scholar of Jewish studies and has written book on the Torah. He bought his first work by Bhupen on a visit to India in 1991, at a show titled “Printmakers of Baroda,” at Cymroza Art Gallery, Mumbai. He then wrote to the artist asking if they might meet. Bhupen readily agreed and the two of them met and became friends in 1994. Over the years, they met up in various parts of the world, including the USA and Spain.
An intrepid traveller, Brian divides his year into three places: Washington (where he lives with his dog), Tel Aviv (where he owns a time share) and India (he’s covered every part of the country over the past 25 years). Like Bhupen, Brian values friendship and he makes an effort to meet everyone he knows on his trips to India. “Thanks to Bhupen, I know most of Baroda’s famous artists. But Bhupen was also friends with many ordinary people. They were the subject of many of his works. I treasure my friendships with them as well,” says Brian.