Over nearly half a century, leading painter Marlene Dumas has used her portraiture-centred practice to investigate emotion and interrogate preconceptions around notions of class, gender, sexuality, and race. Her artwork consistently explores constructions of identity and the fluid distinctions between the public and the private.Read More
Through her focus on the human figure in both self-portraits and portraits of others, Marlene Dumas works to merge socio-political themes with personal experience and art-historical antecedents to create a unique perspective on a range of pressing contemporary concerns, including homophobia ('Great Men', 2014–ongoing) and the Israel-Palestine conflict (The Wall, 2009).
Across her prolific practice Marlene Dumas' subjects have ranged from strippers and stars to infants. Of the latter category, The First People (1990) is a set of four large-scale oil paintings of four new-borns that has been particularly lauded. In these 180-centimetre-tall paintings, Dumas presents infant figures taller than most adults, creating a surprising role-reversal in which the adult viewer begins to seem more vulnerable than the depicted infant.
Born in 1953 in Cape Town, Marlene Dumas studied at the University of Cape Town before moving to The Netherlands in 1976 to study art and psychology. She continues to live and work in Amsterdam. In 1995, she represented The Netherlands at the Venice Biennale with a series of large-scale portraits that brought together references to photographs of English supermodel Naomi Campbell and depictions of Mary Magdalene.
Marlene Dumas' 2014 solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam was titled Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden, and was a major retrospective of the artist's work, comprising almost 200 drawings and paintings from private and public collections world-wide. The show travelled to Tate Modern in London and the Fondation Beyeler in Basel in 2015.
The Image as Burden (1993)—the titular artwork of the exhibition—is an oil-on-canvas piece in which one figure carries another. Generally understood as a portrayal of Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor in the romantic drama Camille (1936), Dumas intended the title to focus on the complex relationship between paintings and images, and in particular her interest in the way that a painting can affect an image.
In 2008, Marlene Dumas' critically acclaimed retrospective Measuring Your Own Grave was presented at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in association with New York's Museum of Modern Art. The prior year, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo had hosted Broken White, the artist's first major solo exhibition in Japan; the show was subsequently presented at the Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art.
Numerous museums world-wide count artworks by Marlene Dumas in their collection, including the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Gemeentemuseum, The Hague; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo; Museum für moderne Kunst, Frankfurt; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; and Tate, London.
In 2012, a solo exhibition of the artist's work was shown at the Fondazione Stelline in Milan. In 2008, a critically acclaimed retrospective, Measuring Your Own Grave, was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in association with The Museum of Modern Art, New York, which toured to The Menil Collection, Houston, Texas in 2009. Intimate Relations marked her first solo exhibition in South Africa and was held at the Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town in 2007 and the Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg in 2008. The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo hosted the artist's first comprehensive solo show in Japan in 2007. Titled Broken White, it traveled to the Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art, Marugame, Japan. Other institutions which have presented one-person exhibitions from the past decade include the Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf (2008); Taidehalli, Helsinki (2005); Art Institute of Chicago (2003); New Museum, New York; De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg, The Netherlands (both 2002); and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2001).
Work by Dumas is represented in museum collections worldwide, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Gemeentemuseum, The Hague; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Tate Gallery, London.
Biography by Ocula | 2020