Marlene Dumas - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Saturday, May 7, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Seeing Red: Marlene Dumas' 'Night Nurse'

    The 'Night Nurse' herself stands confidently, and conveys a sense of power. Standing against a red background, the initial connotation reads as lust, but on the other hand, symbolizes a hospital, particularly as the red is juxtaposed with the white garments. Dumas plays with that ambiguity and invites further inspection in a rare, vivid collaboration with Dutch photographer and filmmaker, Anton Corbijn from their 1998-2000 series, 'strippinggirls'. Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art Jean-Paul Engelen presents this provocative work from our 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 8 May 2016 in New York.

  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Amsterdam, Theatermuseum, Theater Instituut Nederland; Ghent, Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.); Paris, Institut Néerlandais, Anton Corbijn and Marlene Dumas: strippinggirls, April 15, 2000 - November 4, 2001, 2000, n.p. (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave, exh. cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, 2008, p. 112 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Yet a really good strip is never fun(ny).
    It’s hard to find, but when you do, you don’t laugh.
    You shiver, a memory of ancient origin. Salomé’s erotic dance drove the king to give her whatever she asked. When the seventh veil fell, after all was said and done, she asked for the head of John the Baptist: a Bible story showing the power of desire. Not love, but desire. Do Anton and I look at girls stripping in a similar manner? 
I am the sister and he is the son of a preacher man.

    Marlene Dumas’ paintings have an uncanny quality in their immediacy – as art historian Matthias Winzen has suggested, Dumas’ paintings blossom where language ceases to provide adequate means of understanding or interpreting feelings. Night Nurse, 1998-2000 is a superb expression of Dumas’ painterly style both in form and content. Collaborating with her friend, and fellow artist, Anton Corbijn, Dumas set out to paint a series of works depicting prostitutes working the Red Light District of her adopted hometown of Amsterdam. Dumas’ source material for the strippinggirls series is in alignment with a career long penchant for addressing the visually disorienting or emotionally bewildering. Nudity, sexuality and displaced eroticism are familiar themes for Dumas. The artist revels in confronting these and other delicate or taboo themes, presenting the subject directly, without buffer or pretense, forcing the viewer to examine them head-on. Often calling on allusions to myth or fairy tale or art historical references, Dumas encourages the viewer to take pause in order to first examine the work as it appears in front of them, and second, to look inward at their own preconceived notions of the narrative that they conjure.

    In Night Nurse Dumas depicts her subject standing full frontal, arms sheathed in over-the-elbow black gloves, hands powerfully fisted on her hips, resting her weight on one leg. She stands clothed, but only just barely so – her undergarments skewed to one side, the lace wraps of her high-heels creeping up her legs like kudzu. The only element of the painting that relates it to any sort of medical or care environ is the blaze of the red background, which here invokes less an emergency symbol and more the fire of lust. At once clarifying and obscuring the readings of her paintings, Dumas gives titles genuine consideration. "Titles give direction to the way a picture is looked at." (Marlene Dumas, quoted in Paul Andriesse, The Eyes of the Night Creatures, exh. cat., Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam, 1985, p. 19) Helping the viewer to move outside the hurdle of tormented incomprehensibility, Dumas' titles shape the viewer’s perceptions and contribute to a more expansive understanding of what initially may seem to be a very blatant picture. Indeed, even while often presenting a witty and sophisticated form of navigation, her titles also underscore the ambiguity of the image. Much of the power of her compositions is in their suggestive (versus literal) visual impact. So enigmatic a painting as Night Nurse “suggests all sorts of narratives, but it doesn't really tell you what's going on at all. Someone said that it feels as if something has happened, in the sense of an after-event, or alternatively that something's going to happen but you don't yet know what it is. It's as if I can make people think they are so close to me - that they believe I've addressed the painting directly to them. I give them a false sense of intimacy. I think the world invites you to have a conversation with it.” (Marlene Dumas, quoted in Barbara Bloom, “Interview”, Marlene Dumas, London: Phaidon, 1999, p. 12)

  • 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. 

    View More Works

Property from the Collection of an Artist


Night Nurse

oil on canvas
78 3/4 x 39 3/8 in. (200 x 100 cm)
Signed, titled, inscribed and dated "M Dumas (begonnen 1999) voltooid - 2000 strippinggirls Night Nurse" on the reverse.

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $2,517,000

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 May 2016