Wednesday, June 18, 2008

the case for Marlene Dumas

Chris Ashley suggested we write about why we are pro-Dumas as regards the current debate. If you haven’t kept up on this, check out the posts on Marlene Dumas by Martin Bromirski on Anaba. The New York Times Magazine also published an article about her last Sunday.

The article quotes her proudly measuring her life in negatives: I never learned to ride a bicycleI never learned to drive… I stay in bed and reflect, like Rossellini. What I am hearing is the score of someone who is not so much a joiner, and of someone happier to meet and greet what happens in their interior view.

But of course this is all about the work, no? Yet even in the Times article, her success as an artist is shadowed by the question of does she deserve it? In this they refer to Anaba and the ongoing tallies of pro or con.

Much of this can be traced to Dumas reaching a new record at auction for a living woman artist: one of her works went for over three million. Then the floodgates tore open to that ever-present question for the woman artist: “the quality of the work.” People now wish to say why they like it or not, as if her price is justified by those standards.

I wonder if Francesco Clemente would face such remarks and controversy if his work hit a 3 million mark. Maybe indeed it already has. I use him as an example because he’s figurative and of the same generation. He has had his moments in the sun. Did anyone rag about “the quality of work” when he met success?

This reminds me of when Richard Polsky slagged Judy Chicago on my podcast, telling us how awful the work was. “She made history,” I offered, “That’s good enough for me.” He at least graciously admitted that much about her. But for some reason, even when a woman does that, we’re still trying to decide if we like her work or not.

Dumas has a love since childhood of drawing faces and figures. I too loved to draw faces and figures as a girl and did it for years. But it was, to a large degree, considered what girls draw, especially girls who like fashion or fairytales. In the case of Dumas, some have taken a dismissive view because she has painted her children. There must be nothing heavy about that. Strange too, because when men draw their kids or their women, dressed or undressed, this kind of debate just doesn’t come up. And that’s why I am “pro-Dumas” – not because I “like” the work (and I do), but because it doesn’t matter.


namastenancy said...

Debates like this one remind me (as if I needed reminding) that we have not come such a long way (baby!). Your point about Clemente is well taken; I remember criticizing him in an art group and being told that my critique was not valid because he was successful. With women, financial success is never enough. The whole life, persona, belief system and probably her dress size has to be talked about - and usually in a negative or put down way.

Anonymous said...

Whoa Nancy, you lived the scenario. I use it as an example in my head all the time - reverse the situation and see it it sticks.

...Never was a big fan of Donald Judd (except to cut up in collage, which I love doing). But if I were to tell any group that, they'd say what does it matter? It doesn't matter if I like him or not. He made history. And he has a market.

So now Dumas has done the same. She has a market. Is that what people find so offensive?


Anonymous said...

I'm not interested in controversy, but thank you for introducing me to Dumas' work. Excellent! Garish and sophisticated. How timely.

I love it. I would be scared to live with one tho.