Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Measuring Your Own Grave

In the December 22nd issue of The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl writes about a MOMA retrospective of Marlene Dumas, a Dutch painter born in South Africa.

The exhibit is titled "Measuring Your Own Grave" and includes many paintings that deal with subject matter not traditionally glorified by art, including death. Her works have an interesting play of lifelessness and life—with the palette of mostly blacks, whites, grays, and only subtle punches of fleshy peaches and blues.

I share this one, called "The Kiss," which depicts a dead body, face down. It is in part a tribute to the Hitchcock's iconic image of Janet Leigh, dead in the shower in Psycho. As a Hitchcock fan, I was immediately drawn to this one.

A partial answer to the question of why such morbid subject matter: "Dumas matters as one of a number of now middle-age painters who dealt with the apparent dead end of painting after modernism ... when you can do whatever you like, why do anything?" In this artistic context, it's not too difficult to see death calling out to an painter as one of the few moments that still holds meaning, or if not meaning, at least interest.

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