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  • "There is the image you start with and the image you end up with, and they are not the same. I wanted to give more attention to what the painting does to the image, not only to what the image does to the painting" —Marlene Dumas

    Marlene Dumas’s works circulate around psychological themes of the human condition - love, death, sexuality, and memory. Mining imagery from pop-culture, newspaper clippings and decontextualized film stills, as well as her own photographs of family and friends, Dumas’s phantasmic faces and distorted bodies question the distinctions between context and origin. This selection of eleven intimate drawings and paintings made between 1987 and 2001 from the collection of the late Edward Blake Byrne, is representative of Dumas’s bodily oeuvre in which the artist isolates and fragments her figures.

    Inspired by the birth of her daughter Helena in 1989, a subject the artist continues to depict throughout her career, Dumas has consistently explored the stages of motherhood, beginning with pregnancy and birth. The anticipatory sensation of motherhood is reflected upon in works such as Not born Yet, 1990, Baba Soldaat, 1990, and A Little Devil, 1989. The reality of childbirth and motherhood is felt especially in Baba Soldaat, where an infant with exaggerated proportions stands before the viewer with a soft swirl of pigment sitting in place of a fully developed face.

    In Helena Sleeping, 1989, Dumas invites viewers to observe imagery culled from the registers of her intimate experiences with her daughter. In this work, each feature of the infant’s face is depicted in great detail - the only element left to the viewer’s imagination is the subject’s placement within the black ink wash haze that surrounds her seemingly disembodied head. This prevailing sense of obscurity is indicative of the metaphor of natural and artistic creation that underlines Dumas’s work. Like biological development, Dumas’s artistic practice urges the viewer to question the transmutation of the image as object and subject as well as the differences attributed to it once it takes on a new form.
    "Painting is about the trace of the human touch. It is about the skin of a surface." —Marlene Dumas Unlike the works that center around the extensions of the self, The Reflection, 1992, looks inward and addresses issues surrounding self-perception. In The Reflection, a figure shrouded in darkness sits in front of a mirror while her reflection reveals an alternate depiction of her - a phantom-like presence constructed from a thin coat of white and grey paint. The difference between the figure’s body and their own reflection taps into an ongoing theme that characterizes Dumas’s methodology of interrogating the division between one’s public and private self. "I am dealing with emotions that everyone feels. But I'm always conscious of this tension between knowing that you are making an object, a physical thing, and being aware that you are also referring to things [the emotions] that cannot actually be painted. If the painting works, that tension is in there."1

    1 Marlene Dumas quoted in, Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave, exh. cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, 2008, p. 147

    • Provenance

      Tilton Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in October 2001

    • Exhibited

      Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center, Human Condition (organized by John Wolf), October 1 - November 30, 2016

    • 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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Property from the Collection of Blake Byrne, Los Angeles


Not Born Yet

signed, titled and dated "NOT BORN yet. 1990 marlene." lower right; further signed "M Dumas" on the reverse
ink, graphite and staples on paper collage on paper
9 1/2 x 12 3/4 in. (24.1 x 32.4 cm)
Executed in 1990.

Full Cataloguing

$8,000 - 12,000 

Contact Specialist

Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York

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20th c. and Contemporary Art Day Sale - Afternoon Session

New York 8 December 2020