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Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1998
Amsterdam, Galerie Paul Andriesse, Marlene Dumas: Miss World January 6 - February 14, 1998
Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art; New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Houston, The Menil Collection, Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave, June 22, 2008 - March 26, 2009, pp. 118-119 (illustrated)
(They say) Art no longer produces Beauty,
She produces meaning, but
(I say) One cannot paint a picture,
or make an image of a woman
and not deal with the concept of beauty.
Marlene Dumas from Models, 1995
Marlene Dumas has, by her own admission, spent nearly her entire creative life contemplating the idea of the "model” – not simply the artist’s muse or figure study, but the contemporary cultural icon of the fashion model. As a child, she entertained guests at her family’s wine vineyard in South Africa by drawing bikini-clad models on matchbooks. Of course, these images were never drawn from life, but from photographs, mental constructs of “the model.” By the time Colorfields was painted in 1997, Dumas had established herself as a masterful painter, one with a razor-sharp critical perception of the world around her. Having grown up a white female in apartheid-era South Africa, Dumas was ever aware of the power structures implicit, and explicit, in contemporary life. The strict dichotomy of that life presented an emotional and personal historic framework on which to build up her creative ingenuity from thence forth. A never ending dialogue on the limitlessness of interpretation and manifestation, Dumas’s oeuvre is a study in the power of the painted image.
A striking image of five heroically-scaled women, Colorfields confronts the viewer with its bold chromatic arrangement, a quality of this painting that is relatively rare within Dumas’s pictures. First exhibited in her 1998 exhibition, Miss World, at Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam, Colorfields was joined by such other notable works as Miss January, 1997 (Rubell Family Collection, Miami), Ivory White and Ivory Black, both 1997 (both Tate, London), The Brides of Dracula, 1997 (Centraal Museum, Utrecht), and others in various esteemed public and private collections. These paintings were some of the first that Dumas painted in which fashion and the historical reference of the drapery, the fabric, featured in her work. She would go on to collaborate with Bert Boogard in 2002 on an exhibition in which Boogard overworked original nude drawings by Dumas with his own depictions of the textile. This series is currently part of an important American collection and has been promised to The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Interestingly, and especially notable with regards to Colorfields, Dumas’s titles are more often associative than directly literal, and while she does clearly reference the Color Field movement, the emotive nature of color harnessed and exercised by the Abstract Expressionists is much more at the fore of this painting than anything proposed by the Color Field painters. And just as much as that bastion of machismo painting of the post-war period affected Dumas, so too can one clearly understand the influence of her turn-of-the-century European forebears. The demented coloration of Munch’s psychologically driven universe, Nolde’s crazed dancers, Jawlensky’s portraits, all feature prominently within Colorfields and yet none are nearly so layered in their meaning as Dumas’s painting.
Taking as its source a Vogue photograph of four models – Carla Bruni, Nadja Auermann, Shalom Harlow, and Karen Mulder – Colorfields is emblematic of Dumas’s painting in its mediation and reinterpretation of an earlier source photograph, and is further distinguished by the interesting addition of a fifth figure to the far right. Nearly all of Dumas’s painting have a basis in photography, “The source materials are about the political choices one faces. They are of the time they are made in. They are about whose side are you on” (Marlene Dumas quoted in Cornelia Butler, “Painter as Witness,” in Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave, exh. cat., The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2008, p. 45) However, the distinction between the “taking” of a photo and the “making” of a painting is one of the main leitmotifs of Dumas’s oeuvre. How does a viewer understand a photograph? How does the photographer understand the scene before the camera? There is no moral judgment in photography – ostensibly it is the recording of facts in a discrete period of time. Dumas, in Colorfields and throughout her practice, makes a point of the fact that each decision she makes can be, must be, qualitative, transformative, even moral. What then can the viewer make of the additional fifth figure, the only one whose face does not elide with those of her cohort? Why has Dumas decided to depict this additional figure in what can only seem to be interpreted as a wedding gown?
Dumas's work has consistently been analyzed in terms of its possible underlying narratives leading to multiple and often complex readings; however, she insists that while she draws influence from a myriad of sources, she is most interested in maintaining an air of mystery throughout her body of work. "[My work] is suggestive; it suggests all sorts of narratives, but it doesn't really tell you what's going on at all...I give [the viewer] a false sense of intimacy. They think the work invites you to have a conversation with it" (Marlene Dumas, quoted in an interview with Barbara Bloom, Marlene Dumas, New York, 1999, p. 12). Dumas neither pities nor glorifies her subject; rather, the captured moment belongs to a specific present where the artist is nearly a voyeur herself.
Dumas's work is rooted in an understanding of the human figure as a kind of visual lexicon for psychological narrative and in a realization about how the body, in all its awkwardness or ease of posture, can speak volumes about the nature of the human condition as a whole. The uniqueness of the body is often furtively, if also sometimes unintentionally, captured on camera. Dumas's fluid and almost intuitive painting of such imagery draws out such particularities from her sources. This individualistic nature of the figure means that the group as an “ideal”, and any attempt at representing it, is so fraught. “I always wanted to be an abstract artist” she once said, “There was a time when I didn't want to use the figure, but I went back to it because it carries so many psychological associations that are hard to name or pinpoint. My interest in the figure has nothing to do with anatomy but instead with what happens between people” (Marlene Dumas quoted in Bernhard Balkenhol and Matthias Winzen, “Hard or Soft: A Conversation with Marlene Dumas and Andries Botha”, 1998, online).
New York Auction 18 May 2017