marlene dumas explores human emotions and the concepts of ‘opening’ and ‘ending’ at palazzo grassi

Beginnings and endings

South African artist Marlene Dumas thinks a lot about beginnings, endings, and the cyclicality between the two. As she ponders what ties her body of work together – a single description, the singular entity of emotion, or even just a hook to lull her audience into what to expect when they see her repertoire artistic – it inaugurates her state of mind and perception of her environment and the world in which she lives. She thinks of the waves of closures, the idea of ​​being imprisoned in her own home, the museums that have closed due to restrictions and the Palazzo Grassi museum in Florence where his current show takes place. “Then I thought about the word ‘open’ and how my paintings are open to different interpretations. In my works, the viewer immediately sees what I have painted but does not yet know its meaning. Where the work begins is not where it ends. The word “end”, which in the context of the pandemic has its own implications, is both fluid and melancholy”, she saysso she named her exposure at Grassi Palace just that: ‘open-end’, a major monographic exhibition dedicated to the artist and presented until January 8, 2023 (see our complete list of Venice Art Biennale 2022 shows to see here).

all images by Designboom, courtesy of Marlene Dumas and Palazzo Grassi / Heirarchy, 1992, Oil on Canvas / Banner image: Betrayal, 1994

poetic rhythm

Poetic rhythm flows within and is part of Dumas’ research and artistic creations, a back and forth between erratic rhythm and consistent feel. Whatever the dimensions of his paintings, the essence, if not the echo, of poetry resides in his works. “Poetry is writing that breathes and leaps and leaves spaces open, so that we can read between the lines.” she says, but her system of poetry moves from text to visual, interpreting suffering, ecstasy, fear and despair – to name a few – through images that moved her. A crucial aspect of her work focuses on her use of pre-existing imagery that she draws inspiration from, from images seen in newspapers, magazines or film to film stills and Polaroids she has taken herself. In her book ‘Sweet Nothings: Notes and Texts’, she describes herself as an artist who uses second-hand images and first-hand emotions, oscillating between the extremes and specters of love and death, sex and race, innocence and blame, violence and tenderness.

marlene dumas explores human emotions and the concepts of 'opening' and 'ending' at palazzo grassi
Blue Marilyn, 2008, oil on canvas

human emotions

One can see the air of awareness that Dumas instills in his images, an invitation to his viewers to revisit their self-perception and their ability to read the world. The depiction of human figures grappling with the most intense emotions and paradoxes shares the limelight of the myriad subjects addressed by his body of work. “Painting is the trace of the human touch. It is the skin of a surface. A painting is not a postcard,’ she says. As the artist herself says and Ulrich Loock points out in her text for the exhibition catalog, “Certain criteria for the choice of images taken into consideration for the painting could find their origin in the personal biography of Dumas, for example in the separation from a lover […]. But the decisive factor can also be more marked general conditions, for example his youth spent under apartheid; a corresponding sensitivity for the situation of the “Miserables of the Earth”, those who are deprived of their rights in Congo, Algeria or Palestine; a fundamental politico-moral position against racism and gender discrimination; or a stand for a form of “eroticism” corresponding to its “drive towards the unruly forces of life and chance, against sober systematic formulations. If moral questions stimulate her, it is her awareness of how they are experienced in and through the body that is at the heart of her work.

marlene dumas explores human emotions and the concepts of 'opening' and 'ending' at palazzo grassi
Smoke, 2018, Oil on Canvas

About the exhibition

One of the most influential artists on the contemporary art scene, Marlene Dumas was born in 1953 in Cape Town, South Africa. She grew up and studied fine art under the apartheid regime, and in 1976 she flew to Europe to continue her education and settled in Amsterdam, where she now lives and works. Today she works primarily with oil on canvas and ink on paper, and her work largely consists of portraits and human figures, which are universal representations of the full spectrum of human emotions. The exhibition was organized by Caroline Bourgeois in collaboration with the artist, which brings together more than a hundred works from the Pinault Collection as well as from international museums and private collections. The focus is on the artist’s recent work, including paintings created for the Venetian exhibition, and has been expanded by a selection of paintings and drawings made between 1984 and today.

marlene dumas explores human emotions and the concepts of 'opening' and 'ending' at palazzo grassi
The Crucifixion, 1994, Oil on Canvas

marlene dumas explores human emotions and the concepts of 'opening' and 'ending' at palazzo grassi
The peculiarity of nudity, 1987, oil on canvas

marlene dumas explores human emotions and the concepts of 'opening' and 'ending' at palazzo grassi
Die Baba [The Baby],1985, Oil on Canvas

marlene dumas explores human emotions and the concepts of 'opening' and 'ending' at palazzo grassi
The Painter, 1994, Oil on Canvas

project info:

Last name: Marlene Dumas. open end

artist: Marlene Dumas

conservative: Caroline Bourgeois

museum: Grassi Palace

location: Venice, Italy

until: January 8, 2023

Matthew Burgos | design boom

June 07, 2022

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