Cultural Exchange (Mummie wants to go home)

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Amsterdam, Galerie Paul Andriesse, 25 or 30 Years Gallery, December 18, 2009 - February 7, 2010

  • Catalogue Essay

    Confronting the viewer with its indelible presence, Cultural Exchange (Mummie wants to go home), 2008-2009, demonstrates Dumas’s career-long investigation of the human condition. Delicate veils of translucent paint give form to the luminescent body of an unwrapped mummy, its larger-than-life figure stretching across the narrow expanse of the nearly seven foot long canvas. Touching upon issues of cultural repatriation and ethics of representation, the painting powerfully epitomizes Dumas’ extraordinary ability to explore some of the most challenging issues of our time with painterly virtuosity. Painted between 2008 and 2009, Cultural Exchange (Mummie wants to go home), was created concurrently to Dumas's preparation for her first major United States museum exhibition Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave, which opened at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in 2008 and travelled to The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and The Menil Collection, Houston.

    The present work epitomizes Dumas’s acclaimed ability to explore the fraught relationship between representation and interpretation, particularly as it relates to the photographic image and mass media. Her conceptual painting practice takes as a starting point the images she has collected in her vast visual archive, encompassing art historical reproductions, recent and old news clippings, Polaroids and other photographic imagery. The photographic source image for the present work was derived from a newspaper article published in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant on June 15, 2007, which discussed the dilemma of repatriation surrounding the unwrapped mummy of an Egyptian boy in the collection of the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, a subject the museum itself was then addressing in a series of exhibitions and symposia. Dumas deliberately draws attention to the complicated ethics surrounding historical artifacts such as these, alluding to the article’s headline “Als een mummie naar huis wil” (“If a mummy wants to go home”) and additionally adding “Cultural Exchange” to the work’s title.

    Much of the debate surrounding Leiden’s mummy was centered on its sacrilegious state of being unwrapped, likely the result of a controversial 19th century practice in Europe. As the de Volkskrant article pointedly asked, “Can people simply marvel at the death of another – in this case the bare and naked death?” (Eric Hendricks, “Als een mummie naar huis wil”, de Volkskrant, June 15, 2007, online). This is a question that Dumas has long been dealing with in painting since the beginning of her career in the 1980s. Again and again, Dumas has been compelled to tackle the representation of death – from works such as A Dead Man, 1988, to more recently throughout the 2000s with close-up portraits of such deceased figures as Ulrike Meinhof and Marilyn Monroe.

    While exploring issues of cultural repatriation and ethics, Dumas ultimately puts forth an image that is bereft of any original narrative context. It simultaneously seems to offer a larger meditation on death and the afterlife that Dumas had explored in such paintings as Snow White and the Broken Art, 1988, Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, and her large-scale drawings from 2003, which includes After Photography, The Art Institute of Chicago and After All (is Said and Done), The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Like Cultural Exchange (Mummie wants to go home), all these works portray full-length figures in an unusual vertical format that correlates to the dimensions of Hans Holbein’s The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, 1521.

    While Dumas initially seems to be walking in the conceptual footsteps of Gerhard Richter, her paintings differentiate themselves from the emotional distance of Richter’s blurred, photo-realist paintings. Dumas’ painting process is transformative rather than mimetic, allowing the physicality of painting itself to undermine the original photographic source material. Relishing in the materiality of paint, Dumas allows her subjects to transcend their origins by transforming the pre-existing source image with delicate brushwork – here rendering the mummy in a shimmering and sumptuous kaleidoscope of pastel color.

    In doing so, Dumas seems to touch upon the notion, “Death is the eidos of [the] Photograph” that Roland Barthes put forth in Camera Lucida (Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, New York, 1981, p. 15). In choosing photographs of death, Dumas takes upon the paradox Barthes recognized in photographing corpses, which results in “the living image of a dead thing” (Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, New York, 1981, p. 79). Dumas appears to take this notion as a point of departure to approach oft-proclaimed “death of painting”. As Richard Schiff argued in relation to her practice, “When the subject is death, painting is more alive than photography, because it contributes to its own animation” (Richard Schiff, “Less Dead”, Marlene Dumas, Measuring Your Own Grave, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2008, p. 146).

    Painting is a decisive moral act for Dumas. Through it, she achieves in returning her subjects “to a state of something like tenderness, something like life” (Adrian Searle, 2004, in The Image as Burden, exh. cat., Tate, London, 2014, p. 120). It is in works such as Cultural Exchange (Mummie wants to go home) that Dumas shows us the meaning, profundity and potency of painting in an era dominated by the proliferation of images.

40

Property from a Distinguished Private Asian Collection

Cultural Exchange (Mummie wants to go home)

titled "Cultural Exchange" lower right; further signed, titled and dated "M Dumas 2008-2009 Cultural Exchange (Mummie wants to go home)" on the reverse
oil on canvas
39 3/8 x 78 3/4 in. (100 x 200 cm.)
Painted in 2008-2009.

Estimate
$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

sold for $975,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278
aloiacono@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2018