Economy, geography, demography and even the climate – there are many reasons for the rise and fall of great cities, but when we come to remember their trajectories we do so not through the lenses of the social or physical sciences but through the art and culture they produce.
In the same way that the journals of the Goncourt brothers, Baudelaire’s essays and the urban paintings of the Impressionists now frame our vision of 19th century Paris, the works of George Grosz, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht have helped to define popular memories of early 20th century Berlin. But who will provide the images, script and soundtrack by which the great cities of the early 21st century will be judged?
If growth, density, wealth and creativity are any guide to a city’s status then Mumbai already qualifies as one of the world’s great metropolises and if the curators of a new exhibition at London’s Tate Modern have their way then Bhupen Khakhar’s work will help to define the way future generations remember its rise.
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Image: Bhupen Khakhar, You Can’t Please All (1981). Courtesy the estate of Bhupen Khakhar.