March 31, 2010

Like "bruised flesh and dried blood, urine stains and sour milk"

 Marlene Dumas, "Under Construction," 2009, oil on linen, 70 7/8 x 118 1/8 x 1"

 Marlene Dumas, "Wall Wailing," 2009, oil on linen, 70 7/8 x 118 1/8 x 1"

 Marlene Dumas, "The Sleep of Reason," 2009, oil on linen,  39 3/8 x 35 1/2 x 1"


In Time Out, Howard Halle reviews the Dumas show at Zwirner. "In spite of its considerable reputation, I’ve never been particularly enamored of the work of Marlene Dumas. She demonstrates a marked propensity for marrying lugubrious themes (like portraits of drowning victims) to a thin, Neo-Expressionistic paint-handling that seems extraneous to the images involved; meanwhile, her palette tends to fall in the spectrum between bruised flesh and dried blood, urine stains and sour milk. The trouble with this package is not that it’s unlovely, but that ultimately, it is unconvincing. Dumas lays claim to a gravitas that feels more assumed than earned, as she often confuses self-importance for a deep unpacking of the human condition. The result is a mannered muddle that hits you over the head with significance.

"Still, I find it hard to shake off the effects of 'Against the Wall,' her current show at David Zwirner. All of her weaknesses as an artist remain amply on display, but this time, they don’t seem to get in the way of her main subject, which is the Middle East, specifically Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Considering the topic, and how easily Dumas could have gone off the rails dealing with it, it’s nothing short of a miracle that these canvases work as well as they do. Yet their impact is undeniable."

"Marlene Dumas: Against the Wall," David Zwirner, New York, NY. Through


4 comments:

Well if she's so bad, why is this show so good?

This show has 'undeniable impact' because the politics appeal to Halle?

'All of her weaknesses as an artist remain amply on display, but this time, they don’t seem to get in the way of her main subject, which is the Middle East, specifically Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians'

Are we to assume the artist's lamo technique and pretentiousness, are somehow at home with her political sympathies here?

Quite what Halle finds unconvincing about Dumas' work is by no means clear, much less convincing. Why should a theme of drowning, dealt with by marked solvency of means be in any way lugubrious? Surely the contrary. She is, if anything, fleeting and wishy washy. Nor is it in any way adequate to describe her style as simply ‘Neo-Expressionistic’. Does Halle really find striking affinity between Dumas and Schnabel, Kiefer, Clemente or Penck? Dumas shares none of their interest in allegory or metaphor, extended medium or grand scale. Her drawing at best owes allegiance to Munch and an Art Nouveau arabesque. Her themes have for the most part been the vulnerability of the young and marginalised. Where is all this ‘self-importance’ Halle detects? Her self-portraits are not that numerous or imposing, her scale and means hardly flag prestige or pomp.

Halle’s condescension, insensitivity and ignorance hardly stand as a recommendation for the show. But then, New York critics generally give Dumas a hard time.

And from here, for what look like strictly parochial reasons.

You're a bloody nuisance, CAP - you stick the pigs at the very heart of their squealing.

Of course Dumas' work won't touch sensibilities who, for the part, need the message (and the paint) rubbed in their faces.

She walks a fine line, does Madame Dumas & sometimes she falls off but it's a wonder that she can hold it all & that deserves respect.

You're a bloody nuisance, CAP - you stick the pigs at the very heart of their squealing.

Of course Dumas' work won't touch sensibilities who, for the part, need the message (and the paint) rubbed in their faces.

She walks a fine line, does Madame Dumas & sometimes she falls off but it's a wonder that she can hold it all & that deserves respect.

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