Caught in the Pull: Marlene Dumas at MoMA


Fresh back from Art Basel Miami, Flavorpill’s Paul Laster hit up the opening of Marlene Dumas’ latest exhibit at the MoMA. His dispatch from the evening follows.

See the gallery of his arty exploits here.

Marlene Dumas’ much-anticipated retrospective of paintings and works on paper, titled Measuring Your Own Grave, opened last Wednesday night at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Despite the dark subject matter of so much of her work, Dumas was jovial as she greeted friends and supporters, while hanging tight with her daughter Helena, in the third and sixth floor galleries. Collectors Michael and Susan Hort, Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg, and Michael Ovitz admired the show — comparing who owned what — and former Dumas dealer Jack Tilton and his wife Connie graciously bumped elbows with the artist’s current representative, David Zwirner, who had his whole family in tow.

Fellow artists Alex Katz, accompanied by his wife and muse Ada, and Barbara Bloom commented on the show to reporters. Katz told a New York Magazine correspondent that Dumas’ subject matter was more daring than anything he would approach while Bloom, who first introduced me to Dumas’ work 20 years ago, proclaimed that the show was “absolutely beautiful.” When I asked if there was anything missing, Bloom amusingly declared, “several portraits of me.”

Working from photographic source material, both found media imagery and personal snapshots, Dumas has constructed an impressive body of work centered on issues of humanity and representation. Her subjects range from birth and death to sex and oppression. When asked in a June 2008 Artkrush interview how she chooses her subjects, Dumas said, “They choose me.” While discussing considerations related to making paintings from photos, Dumas added, “the painterly and formal aspects are crucial. The way painting moves between illusionism and flatness determines the tone and dynamics of the visual impact.”

Not everyone thinks Dumas’ “visual impact” is potent. In her New York Times review of the show, Roberta Smith wrote, “that while this amply talented artist has created some riveting images, her work becomes monotonous and obvious when seen in bulk.” However, Time Out New York’s Kate Lowenstein praised the artist in her telephone-interview-turned-preview, stating, “A trademark Dumas canvas melds frigid existentialism with a heated, painterly passion. We’re repelled by its chill, captured by its glow — and end up caught in a Dumasian gravitational pull.”

Dumas work remains on view at MoMA through February 16th and a show of prints and multiples by the artist opens at Kyle Kaufman Gallery tomorrow.