The Image as Burden
Marlene Dumas at Tate Modern

Her figures show blemishes and wounds, are full of longing and loneliness. Yet Marlene Dumas gets the inspiration for her paintings from high-gloss magazines. In the retrospective The Image as Burden at Tate Modern in London, she proves that despite the daily flood of images from TV, newspaper, and the Internet, painting is as important as ever. The more than 200 paintings and works on paper on exhibit reveal the psychological, social, and political subtext of these media images. They show that these images influence people’s perception and are inscribed in contemporary painting. However, the artist, born in South Africa in 1953, turns the tables: she says she wants “to give more attention to what the painting does to the image, not only to what the image does to the painting.”

The title of the exhibition, The Image as Burden, is taken from a painting executed by Dumas in 1993. It shows a man carrying a woman in his arms, like a scene from a classic Hollywood movie. Yet it also recalls pictures from crisis and disaster areas. Dumas likes to play with such ambiguities. “I never intend to say this is this or this is that,” said the artist in an interview with ArtMag in 2006. Among her works that resist unequivocal interpretation is the watercolor Untitled (Looking Down) (1992) from the Deutsche Bank Collection, which was on view recently in the exhibition The Circle Walked Casually at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle.

For Dumas, however, not only the image is a burden, but so is painting. “It’s not enough if you love to paint or feel the need to express yourself,” she says. “Van Gogh said it very beautifully that he wanted to give something back to life. Pasolini said that you have to work against yourself. I’ve always struggled with that challenge. I don’t paint every day, and I don’t really like the smell of oil paint.” This attitude distinguishes her from many so-called master painters. Dumas’ processing of images ensures that the age-old medium of painting is absolutely up to date in her work.

Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden
2/5/2015 – 5/10/2015
Tate Modern, London