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Marlene Dumas

Baselstrasse 101
May 31–September 6

Marlene Dumas, The Painter, 1994, oil on canvas, 6' 7“ x 39 1/4”.

The Kunstsammlung in Basel possesses one of the most shattering paintings in the history of the medium: Hans Holbein’s The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, 1520–22. Who would guess that Marlene Dumas, another artist of the human form, always returns to this work? The scene is bleakly conjured in Dumas’s Snow White and the Broken Arm, 1988, as well as in her monumental, tender drawing in acrylic, ink, and watercolor, After Painting, 2003, which showcases her swift, diaphanous application of paint. In this work, Dumas even succeeds in surpassing the old master, in that the prostrate dead body appears as if it were wrested from the paper on which it was rendered—transience and salvation find their material echo here. It is a happy coincidence therefore that after stations in Amsterdam and London the show “Marlene Dumas. The Image as Burden” finds its triumphal close in the Fondation Beyeler in Basel.

The first three works in this show offer a painterly voyage of discovery into the abysses of the conditio humana. There is the tense self-portrait in oil, The Sleep of Reason, 2009, which contrasts the opaque purple of Dumas’s dress with the transparent streak of her hair, closed eyes, and hands. Against this, on the wall across, is Helena’s Dream, 2008, wherein a full-face portrait of Dumas’s daughter engulfs the entire image and breathes sheer, unending peace. What might these two be dreaming? An answer comes in the third canvas in the room, The Painter, 1994. A gigantic girl (or defiant gnome) stands with an oil-smeared stomach and hands in different hues, uncanny and self-confident. This opening room alone makes the trip to Riehen in Basel worth it.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Max Glauner