Life + Arts

Exhibit links sexuality, art

Dutch painter Marlene Dumas uses the human face and body as a canvas to display the range of emotion, politics and gender concerns. ‘

Dumas is an internationally celebrated painter, and is featured in a mid-career survey exhibition now at the Menil Collection titled Measuring Your Own Grave.

The exhibition has toured since summer 2008 and showcases images created from the ’70s to the present. ‘

The show is organized in a loosely chronological manner with groups of similar works, a slight change from the way it was organized in the beginning of its tour, lending it more coherence.’

The images feature prominent photographs, reinterpreted through Dumas’ painting to something almost discordant. ‘

Take ‘The Kiss,’ a still Dumas shot from the movie ‘Psycho,‘ in which Janet Leigh’s freshly murdered character lays face down on the tiled floor, her head tilted to just touch the tile with her lips.’

Dumas renders the image in a series of cool blues, grays, yellows and pink ‘- injecting a feeling of calm, utterly at odds with the original intent of the image through Hitchcock’s eye. ‘

Gender politics are also vividly rendered in Dumas’ work. ‘After the Woman from Algiers,’ is a painting in which sexualized images are presented with the genital areas blacked out, whereas ‘Dorothy D-lite’ exaggerates the female body more seductively. This understanding of the ambiguity of images continues throughout her work.’

‘They are very much aware that they are struggling in this area of the artificial and the paint,’ Dumas said of her images at the New York Museum of Modern Art.

She treats her finished works almost as entities of their own.’

‘They struggle, between the fact that the figures sort of knows they are flat images. I am not Dr. Frankenstein, who thinks I’m going to make a real human being,’ she said.’

Ultimately, one can only approach the truth of any aspect of the human experience and mirror a portion of that understanding in any created image. Dumas’ concern with latent misrepresentation of photography is apparent in her treatment of easily recognized photographic images.’

In the MOMA presentation she refers to ‘Yesterdays’ Papers’ by the Rolling Stones, and mentions she doesn’t throw away papers because the continuity of issues fascinates her as well as a fascination with news images.

Despite the weight of her images and confrontational nature of her work, Dumas is an entertaining and down-to-earth speaker.’

‘It’s not as somber as it sounds,’ she said of her work. ‘It’s about painting and the figure in painting and the painter and the model – how the painter, in this case me, sort of has to find a way to get the figure into the canvas.’

When discussing the morbid title of the exhibit, she addresses her act of capturing and recontextualizing an image.

‘The figure relates to the canvas in the sense that the canvas becomes the coffin or grave of this figure,’ Dumas said. ‘Sometimes (the paintings) are portraits and sometimes they are more metaphors for painting itself – and sometimes they are both.’

Measuring Your Own Grave

An exhibit of work by Marlene Dumas
The Menil Collection
1515 Sul Ross Street
Houston, Tx 77006
Price: Free admission.

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