Marlene Dumas comes home

3 March 2008


One of her artworks sold for US$3.34-million (about R25.6-million today) in 2005, making her the highest-paid living female artist in the world. Marlene Dumas is back home in South Africa with an exhibition, and she is all ours until the end of March.


Dumas was born in Kuilsriver in 1953; she left South Africa in 1976 on a scholarship to study at the Atelier ’63 in Haarlem, Holland and 30 years later is still living in the country’s capital, Amsterdam.


The top-price painting was The Teacher, completed in 1987. Before that her work went for a more modest $50 000 (R383 550 today), according to The New York Times.


The exhibition, called Intimate Relations, is her first solo exhibition in South Africa. It has already been to Cape Town, where it ran from early November to mid-January; it took up residence at Johannesburg’s Standard Bank Gallery in February, and will run there until 29 March.


Consisting of more than 50 works – paintings, drawings and prints – they date from her student years at the Michaelis School of Art at the University of Cape Town, with excerpts from letters, documents and photographs collected by Dumas.


She has also produced works specifically for the exhibition. A writer, too, who comments on art, culture and politics, some of Dumas’s writing is also on exhibit.


‘I want to speak for myself’


Of her writing, she says: “I write about art because I want to speak for myself. I might not be the only authority, nor the best authority, but I want to participate in the writing of my own history. Why should artists be validated by outside authorities? I don’t like being paternalised and colonised by every Tom, Dick and Harry that comes along (male or female).”


Works on display come from several public and private collections in the Netherlands and Belgium.


The title of the exhibition was chosen to “focus thinking around questions of what constitutes intimate relations between people, places and paintings”, says the press statement.


It has been conceived as a homecoming that will give South African audiences “in-depth insights into Dumas’s extraordinary oeuvre through a broad selection of her work”.


“Apart from making work about eroticism and sexuality, for which she uses images from magazines, or her own photographs shot in Amsterdam’s red light district, Dumas also explores other complex ideological themes, such as stereotyped notions of beauty, racism, death, violence, religion, maternity and motherhood. These themes are presented in her work with a frank and often chilling honesty.”


Cycle of life


Joint curator with Dumas, Emma Bedford says that Dumas’s work “deals with the cycle of life, and with issues of gender, sexuality, pleasure and pain, amongst others. While intellectual, ethical and moral questions stimulate and absorb her, it is her awareness of how these are experienced in and through the body that is central to her work.”


Portraits dominate the exhibition, and it’s hard to pull yourself away from them, particularly The New Generation, completed in 1994; it is a striking collection of 45 large faces on unframed canvases that command your attention. There’s not a smile among them, and although some of them are looking straight at you, the impression is of indifference and being detached.


“I don’t do it for the people and I don’t do it against the people. If at all I do it from the people and after the people,” she records alongside the portraits in the catalogue.


She donated the massive work to the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town. Other portraits that will stop you in your stroll around the gallery are Naomi, Helena, Moshekwa, Het Kwaad is Banaal, The Blindfolded Man and Young Men.


In the catalogue, Dumas says of painting: “Painting is about the trace of the human touch. It is about the skin of a surface. A painting is something you have to get up close to. To see, you have to get intimate. If a painting doesn’t change as you get closer, it is not a good painting.”


Constitutional Court


Dumas has donated another work to the Constitutional Court, entitled The Benefit of the Doubt. It depicts three close-up figures in a set of tapestries, about which Dumas says, “One is alone, two is a couple and three is politics.”


Speaking of the donations, Marilyn Martin, the director of art collections at Iziko Museums of Cape Town, says: “Such acts of generosity would be unusual for many artists; for Marlene Dumas they are manifestations of her love for the country of her birth and her commitment to the national art museum and the people of South Africa.”


The Standard Bank Gallery is on the corner of Simmonds and Frederick streets. The gallery is open from Mondays to Fridays, from 8am to 4.30pm and Saturdays from 9am to 1pm. The exhibition closes on 29 March.


Source: City of Johannesburg