MARLENE DUMAS

THE IMAGE AS BURDEN

Tate Modern, London.

By Steve Cox APR 2015

It’s disappointing when the work of one’s artistic heroes or heroines is revealed to be less fascinating in the flesh than when first encountered, shrunk into the pages of art magazines. I have now visited the Marlene Dumas exhibition The Image as Burden on three occasions, and each time it has diminished.

The exhibition, which traces the career of the South African-born Dutch artist, stretches across 14 large gallery spaces. A third of it is good, and some of these pictures are really excellent. Half of the show, however, is fairly mediocre, and one or two pictures are astonishingly bad (including a truly abysmal portrait of Princess Diana). Here, I think we can blame a combination of over-eager curators and the inability of the artist to self-edit – a phenomenon that we might call the ‘McCartney Syndrome’, whereby an artist is in such thrall to their own indulgences that they lose touch with the overall quality of their output. It tends to be an occupational hazard for world-renowned artists, especially if adoring collectors snap up everything they create. Time and again throughout the exhibition, I wished that Dumas had exercised more acute critical appraisal of her pictures, and that she had marshalled greater rigour, both in terms of her painting technique (which is highly variable) and concepts (which tend to be glibly over-simplistic).

The show gets off to a good start in the first space, which contains a single massive work, Rejects (1994), which comprises forty ink drawings of larger-than-life women’s heads pinned directly onto the wall. They are composites ... Subscribe to read this article in full

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