It is rare that a living artist actually takes part in designing their very own retrospective exhibition. Marlene Dumas has, and the result is the most comprehensive exhibit on this contemporary master, now at Fondation Beyeler in Basel.
The Image as Burden
Along with other bloggers, we are invited by the friends at Fondation Beyeler to learn more about Marlene Dumas. Our tour guide chooses one of the most recognized paintings to introduce the artist: It is called The Painter. On a canvas of 2 x 1 meters, the daughter of Dumas is staring at us with her hands colored in dense paint. The little amount of paint Dumas has used for the rest of the portrait appears thin and fragile, creating a somewhat alienating figure.
This would not be the only portrait. Apart from those close to her, including herself in Evil is Banal, Marlene Dumas has also painted various public persons - living or deceased. The close-up of Amy Winehouse is a touching tribute to another contemporary artist. Other subjects include Naomi Campbell, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, and even Osama bin Laden.
In other paintings, Marlene Dumas has transported current affairs from newspaper clippings onto a canvas. Or she is celebrating the beauty of humanity. In Broken White, for instance, we get an intimate look at a sleeping woman. In my humble opinion, this painting represents beauty in its purest form because I can feel the artist's true compassion for her subjects. The fact that the woman's skin color is undefinable to the onlooker may be due to Dumas' own background. Born in 1953 in South Africa, she experienced apartheid and censorship firsthand.
If this century has produced any significant artists, Marlene Dumas is one of them. She has mastered her craft, but she has remained modest (she has allegedly wondered why people like her art so much). To be honest, I did not care much for Dumas' work before visiting the exhibit at Fondation Beyeler. While I still would not want to hang her paintings in my living room, I have gained profound respect for her body of work.
The insightful tour through the exhibit has allowed me to see beyond the dark colors and disturbing themes. And it has taught me something about myself: My initial judgment of Dumas' paintings was purely superficial and I probably did not "like" them because I did not understand them.
- "Marlene Dumas: The Image as a Burden" at Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel
- May 31 - Sept 6, 2015
- Free admission on Wednesday, Aug 26, from 6 - 8 PM
- RailAway combo offer: Get 10 percent off the rail fare, public transportation transfers and museum admission.