Magazine article Artforum International

Marlene Dumas

Magazine article Artforum International

Marlene Dumas

Article excerpt

MUSEUM VAN HEDENDAAGSE KUNST, ANTWERP

Painting and photography keep rubbing up against each other, getting all hot and bothered. A cold-eyed artist like Gerhard Richter just likes to watch, but a more physically and emotionally demonstrative one like Marlene Dumas keeps wanting to join in. Richter's paintings, which treat a portrait, a landscape, or an abstraction as equivalent, introject the camera's horrific indifference to any subject. Dumas's obsessive return to the human face and figure make her a sort of anti-Richter. She understands that to the model, the camera's indifference is no more absolute than a psychoanalyst's silence is to the patient: Both are flagrant invitations to the melodrama of transference. And we are all models, sooner or later. Or as Dumas describes our yearning relationship with the mechanical eye in the title of a 1997 painting, a group portrait of eight haughty demoiselles stripped down to their frilly white underwear, We Were All in Love with the Cyclops.

When Dumas uses pornographic imagery, she shows sexualized images of individuals but not people engaged in sexual contact. The camera is lover enough. Every pose, every gesture--everything--in Dumas's imagery has occurred in order to end up in a photograph. Whether she's working from a found image or one of her own is irrelevant. And except in a few cases where the subject is familiar from the media (Mae West, Madonna), there's no way to know. The fact is, almost everyone knows how to model for the camera. We're brought up on it from childhood; the camera mediates the desire to be seen even more than the desire to see.

But, for this camera-formed imagery to become painting, the artist must have found a way to divert the pose from its fantasized destination in the photograph, literally to pervert it--and after it has arrived there. That's what Dumas means when she writes that she "uses secondhand images and firsthand emotions." What she presents has nothing to do with recapturing the impulse that animated the person who once posed for somebody's camera. Rather, she gives the image a further twist away from that origin by employing neither the emotion connected to the model's wanting to be looked at, nor the one linked to the viewer's wanting to look--instead, it is a specifically painterly emotion in which looking and being looked at are inseparable, and showing one's own gaze is to make oneself visible. So these paintings conjure sensations that are not exactly the same as the ones provided by their imagery alone; there is something added, or at any rate changed, in the way the image inheres in Dumas's altogether unrestrai ned way with paint--a gesture at once caressing and aggressive. …

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