Selected Works Press Release | David Zwirner

Zwirner & Wirth is pleased to present a selection of paintings and works on paper by Marlene Dumas. The works in this exhibition, many of which have never been exhibited in New York, will span the last two decades of Dumas's artistic production, giving view to a range of thematic and formal concerns. 

Dumas's formal mastery belies the complexity of her conceptual preoccupations and she is thus widely considered to be one of today's most important living figurative painters. Born and educated in South Africa, Dumas went to the Netherlands in the late 1970s, where she studied painting and psychology and where she continues to live and work. With its art historical and pop cultural references (which are sometimes combined), Dumas's practice is often based upon the painterly manipulation of found imagery. Many of the works in this exhibition exemplify her interest in how image-making is implicitly involved in the cultural processes of objectification, while simultaneously expressing the artist’s desire to pry the act of figurative painting loose from that history.

Her experience of living as a female under the racism and rigid social structures of South African Apartheid has influenced much of her chosen subject matter. Many of her works are critical of hypocritical societal taboos and stereotypes. The exhibition includes a large-scale canvas from 1994 titled Couples, which depicts a sequence of interracial lovers. Other works expressly deny the possibility of easy racial categorization, such as The Secret, also from 1994, which shows a child from behind whose body's skin tone differs from that of his head.

Art history is explicitly tackled in such works as Ryman's Brides, 1997, which presents an array of brides in their wedding gowns, playing on Robert Ryman's use of different tones of white in his minimal monochromes. Reinhardt's Daughter, 1994, which depicts a naked infant, complicates Ad Reinhardt's use of black in his canvases: in this work, Dumas comments on some of the difficulties of using the color black, a color that is culturally loaded with unspoken semantic associations. 

Dumas combines contemporary art historical references with the theme of pornography in Velvet and Lace (Schnabel meets Baselitz), 1999, which shows a female model bending over and exposing her genitals, her head upside down. My Place, 2000, depicts a female nude posing with her hands firmly on her hips and staring squarely in a challenging manner at the viewer. In these works Dumas manages to exaggerate the banality and depersonalization of pornographic images of women while simultaneously subverting the objectifying male gaze typical of the genre. Dumas strives to reclaim representations of the female nude for her own and for her viewers' pleasure.

Politics are addressed in a large triptych titled The Blindfolded, 2002, in which Dumas has made use of images disseminated by the news media of Palestinian hostages. Her recent work has focused on representations of death, such as The Deceased, a canvas from 2002 which depicts the head of a resting corpse, evocative of both forensic photography and art historical memento mori.

Marlene Dumas has exhibited her work internationally at such venues as the Art Institute of Chicago; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; Stedilijk Museum, Amsterdam; and the Tate Gallery, London, among others.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated exhibition catalogue with an essay by South African poet and novelist Marlene van Niekerk.

Artist Biography

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