Seduced by the painter Dumas. André Gali One night Only
About my encounter with Marlene Dumas.
Duration: 2 acts
By André Gali
The Astrup fearnley museum, tjuvholmen 20.09.2018
It is impossible to miss her curly head of hair in the midst of the crowd of visitors at Fredrik Værslevs opening at the Astrup Fearnley museum, just a week prior to her own opening at The Munch Museum.
Because I interviewed her, about a year ago via email for the Munch Museum’s annual magazine publication, I have a rather meaty correspondence with her stored in my e-mail account. With this in mind, curator for her upcoming show, Trine Otte Bak Nielsen drags me over to said Curly Hair without warning, exclaiming - but now you simply have to meet Marlene!
Dumas is in Oslo for a final edit of works, and to make adjustments for the hanging of the Moonrise exhibition, before returning to Amsterdam, and then coming back to Oslo again, to open her own show. She has taken the time during her tight schedule in Oslo, to come for the grand opening at Tjuvholmen.
Even though I have met, talked to and interviewed a great many profiled and famous artists and curators, art stars and the likes, as a blogger, as a critic and as an editor- Sophie Calle, Elmgren & Dragset, Marét Anne Sara, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Hito Steyrl, Tone Vigeland and David Hockney (to mention a few), - I admittedly become completely tongue-tied and star struck by this ad hoc meeting. Like everyone else in the room, it seems.
By nature, I am a fairly shy man. But Dumas, with her spontaneous ’Ooh, but it is you! immediately brings us to the same level and makes me feel at ease, smiling approvingly, when Trine introduces me and tells her who I am. She moves on to say, in earnest, that she feels like she already knows me after our back and forth in the ether the previous summer. Whereas she seems to have a complete grasp of our conversation back then, I wish I had remembered more of what was stored away on my hard-drive so as to continue our talk, but regrettably I find myself stumbling on, small-talking as best I can about the progress of Moonrise.
The crowd in the Kiefer Hall at the Astrup Fearnley Museum has by this point realised who it is I’m speaking with, swarming around her for selfie-opportunities (I myself, shamelessly rise to the occasion, photographing the two of us in front of a work by Asger Jorn). However, despite the throng, she makes time to talk to me about various aspects of the exhibition, the city of Oslo, Munch and of course, herself. She is witty, well informed, and most of all, captivating. It strikes me that her willingness to engage, to be there, enables her to meet the audience and her fans in a way reminiscent of American artist Jeff Koons, who is due to arrive in Oslo the following week, to open the 25th anniversary exhibition at the Fearnley.
Many things have been said about Koons, about his supposed cynicism, and though this may have some truth to it, he nevertheless has a wholly unique way of engaging with his spectators, as if they are, all of them, worth talking to. Which is a trait not necessarily rife in the upper echelons of the art-world. Similarly, Dumas exhibits the same generosity, an even though she is an art-star, just as tall as Koons, she has not, as he has, made that fact a central tenet of her practice.
Actually, all things considered, she is more reminiscent of Munch in that respect- a locus where art and life intertwine, her ouevre first and foremost existential, where her own inner, at times chaotic life, is revealed. Koons, the prodigal son of Warhol is on the other hand mostly about the creation of a brand, of inhabiting a shiny shell that looks fabulous, and interesting. To polish and reproduce the idea of a fixed identity. A mechanical theatricality I called it in my master’s thesis on Warhol, his life and work bent on eliminating human error, the chaotic and emotional, reducing it all to a shiny object and giving a solid shape to that which is essentially fluid.
Dumas, who also spoke favourably of Warhol’s portraits in our interview, is not a machine nor a camera, retouching the chaotic, or trying to shun the complex and contradictory elements of life; difficult love, anxiety, illness, death, indignation, mental challenges, puberty, sex, power, race. No. In Dumas’ artistic grammar, nothing is taboo, and in a similar vein as Munch, she brings all these conflicts into the brush strokes she rubs directly on to the canvas.
With Ms Dumas, just as with Munch, - the paint is an extension of the forces and the conflicts pulling and tearing at her, but there is also something materialistic about it. The paint becomes a physical presence as if it was the leftovers from bodily fluids, like blood, sweat, tears and sperm. This again, can hark back to the Bulgarian-French linguist and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva, who made use of the term abject - a condition that causes anxiety in the viewer, which in turn can be associated with distaste for waste of death, excrement, food, dirt, wounds and rashes.
The munch museum, Tøyen 28.09.2018
-There is a lot of humour to be found in Munch, which may be overlooked by many. In my work too.
Marlene Dumas speaks of this in her opening speech.
She talks warmly, engaged and eloquently about her own practice, about Munch, and how her interest in Munch arose. She does this as she moves back and forth across the stage, her back to a gigantic painting by Munch himself. Marlene is no academic, her way of speaking is reminiscent of her art I guess, and the kind of a person she is. She wanted her paintings to be about love and all the conflicts that entails, from scenes of jealousy, of admiration and obsession. This was when she found Munch. She became very excited about his work, would write about it as she is a prolific writer, delving into the spaces between autobiography and analysis.
She laughs on stage, a lot, giggles at times even, and has a hoarse voice like a jazz singer. At times, when she stops to catch her breath, a certain shyness rolls over her, as if the role of public speaker is not one that comes naturally to her. When I think of it, she’s ridiculously charming, and glamorous, in a kind of unstudied way.
I have to admit that most of the Dumas I've seen so far are reproductions, and of course I am excited to see how they will work, or interact with Munch’s oeuvre. If they are imbued with the same peculiar strength, the rawness and the sensitivity all in one, like Munch's iconic images.
Those of us who have grown up in Norway, have grown into the idea that there is one looming Norwegian artist who surpasses everyone and everything. Edvard Munch. If there is anyone who can paint fear and anguish, chaos, jealousy or the darkness of a soul, it is he. And yet, at the same time within the discourse of contemporary art, theres is a consensus that “everything has been done before” and that “painting is dead”.
-So how does Dumas navigate this landscape? I wonder and need a few glasses of sparkling wine before I let myself go.into the exhibition space of Moonrise.
At the afterparty
I need to congratulate Dumas with her show, and move in her direction, while she is standing in a group of people from Gallery Riis. The director, Espen Ryvarden, who does not know that I have already met Dumas, introduces me as the blogger. Blogger, a term that has been stuck to me ever since I ran around at art openings about ten years ago and took pictures for Galiblog. With funny hair and a Hello Kitty backpack with all my gear. Time has passed; I am now a father of two, an art critic, writer, editor, and entrepreneur.. I carry a tote, like the rest of them. I'm not ashamed of having started Norway's first art blog – galiblog, some kind of shorthand Hello, or Interview Magazine for the art scene, a kind of who is who at art openings. - But I've done plenty of other things since. Started and operated Kunstfoum for example. So I try to say something smart, can’t for the life of me remember what, and take the opportunity to pop out to the bar at Stockfleths and grab some beers and hang with the artists Juan Andrés Milanes, Kirsten Opstad and Frido Evers. Evers who grew up in the Netherlands and is obviously very, very enthusiastic about Dumas.
Entering the café where the real after party is going on, I get blown away by the whole experience. I can dance with Dumas if I want to, she is out there on the dance floor with everyone around her, picking up the rhythms of her own personal play-list that she has assembled and brought with her. She is sharing the soundtrack of her life with us. Most of us take to the dance floor during this evening, we let go, even the stiffest ones among us. I gather everyone is happy go lucky for a few moments there. It is contagious. I guess the highlight of the evening was when Anniken Thue, former director of the Art Museums in Bergen (now KODE) – a legendary art historian, turns to the dance floor together with Dumas, two stars from different solar systems merging, to the rhythms of the 70's funk, and yet, we are in a tiny café by the entrance to the Munch Museum.
If this had been in London, Paris, New York with a similar scale exhibition, I am quite certain, that I would have to wear a black tie. The speeches would have been longer, and I, no doubt would have felt far more shy. I guess this is a quality I love about the Norwegian art scene. Even in the prestigious exhibition space of the Munch museum, and the same could be said for the National Museum and the Astrup Fearnley Museum, unglamorous people with no pedigree - like me - get invited. Of course.
WORDS: André Gali
PHOTOS: André Gali & the courtesy of The Munch Museum