this issue contains
>> Interview with Ellen Gallagher
>> Portrait of Marlene Dumas
>> New Acquisitions 2005
>> Exhibition Highlights 2006

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Mysterious Skin: An Encounter with Marlene Dumas

They curl up in desire, show their flaws and wounds, abide in longing and loneliness. The primarily female figures in the paintings of the South African painter Marlene Dumas touch upon conventions, longings, and memories. In 2005, two works by the prominent artist counted among the new acquisitions of the Deutsche Bank Collection. Oliver Koerner von Gustorf met with Marlene Dumas during the final preparations for her exhibition “Female” in Baden-Baden.

Warhols Child, 1989-91
Garnatz Collection, Städtische Galerie Karlsruhe,
Photo Heinz Pelz, Courtesy Kunsthalle Baden- Baden

The oldish-looking baby is suspended in front of a white background, arms akimbo, legs bent, and with its bloated belly and vulva protruding. The skin has turned a greyish blue, diaphanous as parchment. Barely born, its ghostly and vulnerable appearance already embodies age, dying, and death. The girl’s head is covered with a thin, platinum blond head of hair that looks as though a wig were growing out of the small skull. Marlene Dumas titled this painting from the early nineties “Warhol’s Child”; it extends to a width of over ten feet.

Untitled (Looking down), 1992
Deutsche Bank Collection

She reacts with amusement to the question as to how this strange being came to life: “Well, after my real child, my daughter, was born in the late eighties, I did various paintings using images of babies. So while being busy with the baby as a mother in a real sense, I noticed what a strange creature she was. I observed everything she did. I was making different paintings at that time. At that stage I also related to artists I liked, and Warhol is someone I am very interested in. There are four components that are important for my work: The painting, the person, the picture, and the portrait. The friction between these absorbs me. It didn’t start off as a portrait of Andy Warhol, and it didn’t start as a portrait of my daughter – it was a mixture. Warhol always wore his wigs and the baby looked like it was wearing a mask – as though it could be filled in with any personality at all. The painting is also a sort of homage to Warhol. I’m a fan, because he’s one of the few 20th-century artists who dealt with essential things like death and sexuality – but in a sexy, unique way.”

Anonymous, 2005
Collection of the artist,
Courtesy Kunsthalle Baden-Baden

While the lanterns switch on in the resort park and people rush past in the pedestrian zone, Dumas’ voice echoes in the empty Kunsthalle in Baden-Baden as though we were a chapel. She only just arrived from London an hour ago to take care of the last preparations for her exhibition Female. She should actually be exhausted, yet she concentrates on our conversation with an openness that is overwhelming. Her long black coat keeps twirling around, making the blond, curly-haired artist, who is in her mid-fifties, seem like a conductor whose every gesture communicates with her environment and her work. Peepshow girls in sexy poses, naked, pale children, oppressed saints that recall the torture victims of Abu Ghraib: Dumas’ paintings appear like a dark antipode to the bourgeois world outside – light years away from tea time in Brenners Parkhotel, from boxes lavishly decorated with ribbons in the store front windows of Godiva Chocolate and the pompous displays of the Versace Home Collection.

Female, 1992-93, Garnatz Collection,
Städtische Galerie Karlsruhe, Photo: Heinz Pelz,
Courtesy Kunsthalle Baden-Baden

The series Female, made in 1992/93 and part of the Eberhard Garnatz Collection in Karlsruhe, forms the heart of the exhibition in the large hall inside the building. Bathed in cold light, 211 small-scale black and white ink drawings are combined into a pulsating grid of portraits of women and children that are hung closely together. Dumas painted them from her own photographs and from media images of the famous and forgotten: people of color, white people, the young and old. Together, they are connected by a single profane category: that of being female. With its gently blurred contours of watery ink and economical gestures, the artist’s series seem like a pathological test result: that of loneliness.

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