The Image as Burden

“No, they’re not all self-portraits.
No, it’s not always my daughter.
No, I had a happy childhood.
No, I’ve never been in therapy.”
Marlene Dumas

The Painter by Marlene Dumas, 1994 (MoMA, NY)

The Painter by Marlene Dumas, 1994  (MoMA, NYC)

Marlene Dumas (°1953) is a South African born painter. In the 1970s she came to the Netherlands on a scholarship to study art at Ateliers ’63 in Haarlem. Upon completing her studies she settled in Amsterdam, where she still lives and works.
She is one of Holland’s most internationally admired artists so the retrospective exhibition “The Image as Burden” opened in her home town.

I was introduced and swept away by her work in 1999 when she was shown in MUKHA, Belgium. About 15 years later, this exhibition did not manage to sweep me away. I realised, while strolling amidst her iconic works, that I was searching for a glimpse of evolution, for some sort of startling surprise, maybe a broadening of content, anything new to discover about Marlene Dumas.

Charity by Marlene Dumas, 2010. Oil on canvas (private collection Paris).

Charity by Marlene Dumas, 2010. Oil on canvas (private collection Paris)

The pictures in this post show some works that pulled my attention. ‘Charity’ for example, who would think Dumas would ever paint a vase of flowers? I liked it at first sight, the dark colours, the contrast, the layering, …

Nuclear family by Marlene Dumas, 2013. Oil on canvas (Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, CH)

Nuclear Family by Marlene Dumas, 2013. Oil on canvas (Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, CH)

The naked body is a major theme in Dumas’ oeuvre, however ‘Nuclear Family’ jumps out. A whole family is shown, the woman pregnant. What strikes me in this image is the togetherness and this emotion didn’t come to mind in any other of her works on display.

The Blindfolded Man by Marlene Dumas, 2007. Oil on canvas (The Rachovsky Collection).

The Blindfolded Man by Marlene Dumas, 2007. Oil on canvas (The Rachovsky Collection)

The portrait is another major theme but ‘The Blindfolded Man’ jumped out. Where most of her portraits are intriguing because of the eyes, this painting is haunting because the eyes of the man are hidden. Her painting technique is marvellous in this work. I also liked ‘Liberation’ for its darkness and at the same time a refined lightness.

Liberation (1945) by Marlene Dumas, 1990. Oil on canvas (private collection of the artist).

Liberation (1945) by Marlene Dumas, 1990. Oil on canvas (private collection of the artist)

And finally ‘The Painter’ (top picture), it is one of my favourites from her more iconic works. Dumas based this painting on a picture of her daughter as a child. The child takes the role of the painter.

The exhibition “The Image of Burden” offers a representative survey of the oeuvre that Marlene Dumas has developed over the last 40 years and thus provides an excellent chance to discover or revisit her work.
Still a chance to see it in Tate Modern, London (Feb 5-May 10) and Fondation Beyeler, Basel (May 30-Sep13).
Young museum co-workers exploring the exhibition ‘The Image as Burden’ in Amsterdam in this video.
All pictures shown are taken by me in the exhibition in Amsterdam.

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