Marlene Dumas - Contemporary Art Part I New York Wednesday, May 11, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam; Private Collection; Sale: Sotheby's, New York, Contemporary Art Day Auction, November 12, 2009, lot 394; Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Gunma, Japan, Museum of Modern Art, Eight People from Europe, April – June 1998, no. 6

  • Catalogue Essay

    …on the one hand the work is very simple, you can see what is depicted. You don’t have to ask what is that? It is a human figure. But you still have to decide for yourself what is going on with its image. That confuses them. The relation of title to the image adds another layer of confusion, if they perceive the work as realism or literalism rather than something else. I like to play with this type of tension.


    (Marlene Dumas in conversation with Gavin Jantjes, Amsterdam, December 15, 1996, reproduced in A Fruitful Incoherence: Dialogues with Artists on Internationalism, London, 1998, pp. 50-63)

    Evil Eye, 1994, is a stunning example of the work by acclaimed South African painter Marlene Dumas, one of the most captivating and thought provoking artists working today. Through her focus on the human figure, Dumas joins together themes of sexuality, identity, race and personal lived experience with art historical precursors to produce a unique aesthetic perspective on the issues that pervade contemporary culture.

    Recalling the way in which famed German painter Gerhard Richter painted pictures from photographs throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Dumas never works directly from reality but only from photographs. For, she believes, to copy reality is a useless pursuit since reality itself will always be more perfect than its copies. Like Richter, in this way, Dumas “has made the elusive and almost immaterial character of the photographic image the basis of her painting style” (B. Prendeville, Realism in 20th Century Painting, London, 2000, p. 212).

    Evil Eye illuminates Dumas’ interest in power and the defacing effects of the facades imposed by representation. The present work is a large-scale portrait painted with watercolor-like delicacy, the upper body of the figure obscured by a veil. The eyes, however, shine out through holes poked in the mask that has become the face. Though her surfaces do not share the same impasto gesture, her simultaneous use of transparency and opacity shares an affinity with Francis Bacon’s interest in the same.

    The evil eye is believed by many cultures to be a malevolent look that can bestow a curse on victims with a mere gaze. In order to protect oneself from its power, which can inflict misfortune or even injury, the wearing of a symbolic “third eye” will ward off the curse. This belief has resulted in a number of apotropaic talismans, or sacred objects, that have the power to turn away impending harm. The figure in the present lot wears a veil most commonly associated with women’s burqas, an all-enveloping cloak which conceals a woman’s form and protects her modesty. While we cannot directly identify any talismans on her body, her powerful gaze and strong stance
    suggest a powerful presence approaching.

    The watercolors and translucent paints Dumas uses for the skin and veil achieve multicolored, sheer layers that signify the covering up and revealing
    of evil that she experienced growing up. In her essay, “Painter as Witness,” art historian Cornelia Butler calls attention to how, “though actually quite bluish, as if stained by a dirty purple hand, the lily-white . . . belies a certain kind of white affliction: the damning complicity that binds every white person in South Africa to the legacy of apartheid” (C. Butler, “Painter as Witness,” Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave, Los Angeles, 2008, p. 62). Recalling that Apartheid involved the literal distinction between groups,
    many of Dumas’s generation were rudely awakened by the realization that their privileged, normal lives were founded on the deaths and oppression of others. In addition to making a political statement, Dumas exposes the history of representation and the affliction that results from looking for essences in physical appearance.

    Searching for a transparency of vision, of reality through its representation, Dumas continuously returns to images of excessive vulnerability. Reminiscent of Warhol’s disaster paintings and portraits of celebrities, her paintings position the viewer to confront that which can’t itself be represented. Dumas “penetrates and pulls apart the mechanisms of projection, of how we understand the images and events of our time, she restores presence and a nurtured and productive ambiguity to how we understand the pageant of the real, of life and death” (C. Butler, “Painter as Witness,” Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave, Los Angeles, 2008, p. 73).

    It is as if the traumatic nature of the artist’s experience growing up, the coordinated attempt to conceal the unpleasant political reality of South Africa, has infused an artistic practice that is as much emotionally real as it is photographically distant. Evil Eye, in a sense, “evokes the primordial act of painting: with our bodies, we make something that looks back at us, a real image, of and from ourselves. Depicted as a fine film, the human image appears at once substantial and ephemeral, there, yet not-there: a new version of that alliance of the actual and the elusive that has haunted pictorial realism in its many historical incarnations.” (B. Prendeville, Realism
    in 20th Century Painting
    , London, 2000, p. 212).

  • Artist Biography

    Marlene Dumas

    South African • 1953

    Marlene Dumas was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and raised on her family’s vineyard in the countryside. After beginning her art degree at the University of Cape Town, she decided to continue her studies in the Netherlands: the country where she’d build her career as an artist, and still lives today. In 1995, she represented the Netherlands at the Venice Biennale. 

    Dumas is best known as a painter, using both oil and watercolor. She typically works from a reference photograph, which could be purchased, from her own camera roll or collected from print media. Her work focuses on the human body, and though figurative, she often distorts her subjects with loose, painterly brushstrokes to make plain their emotional state. Deeply influenced by growing up during Apartheid, Dumas’ work centers around themes of repression, misogyny, violence and sexuality. Today, Dumas is one of the most expensive living female artists at auction, with her work first selling for over $1 million in 2004. 

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Evil Eye

Oil on canvas.
78 3/4 x 39 3/8 in. (200 x 100 cm.)
Signed, titled and dated “Evil Eye. M Dumas. 1995/97” on the reverse.

$900,000 - 1,200,000 

Contemporary Art Part I

12 May 2011
New York