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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Jerry Saltz on Marlene Dumas at MoMA

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"MoMA's dreary Marlene Dumas show establishes that she is a sensationalist with no original ideas about painting, color, or photography; she hasn't developed as an artist; is merely a later day Neo-Expresionist; is more connected to Andreas Serrano than to any painter." - Jerry Saltz on Marlene Dumas, on Facebook, 1/3/09.

WOW! That's it?? A facebook note after fifteen years of random sideswipes? Dude, she has a solo show on your home turf, at the freaking MoMA... this was really put-up or shut-up time.

Some great comments in response to the note -

"Well, Jerry, I have noticed that you've been complaining about her for years, is there a full review underway? If not it's time to let go of this thing with her..." - Joe Fyfe

"It appears you're simply writing "dreary" to avoid dealing with Dark." - Joy Garnett

"I find it fascinating how uniformly critics and New Yorkers (yeah, and me) have hated this show, even Peter Schjeldahl, who I'd have guesed would have found the personality to his liking" - John Haber

John Haber is wrong... Peter Schjeldahl reviewed the show positively. Roberta Smith did not hate the show either.

"I'm gratified that so many people I like to read are so uniform in dumping on this utter garbage and leave it at that" - John Haber... I mean John Hater!! haha.

Charlie Finch dumps, and even uses the word "retarded" to describe the show, apparently trying to glom some of the attention Chris Sharp got for his Joe Bradley review.

34 comments:

kelli said...

For somebody who likes blogging I can't bring myself to do either facebook or myspace. Social networking sites just seem so....social.
It's strange that people who don't like her always pick on marginal stuff like her prices or color palette instead of the most obvious issue: the unreflective use of photography and photojournalism. I think you would need some faith in the idea that the painted version of an image adds something photography can't accomplish which I don't personally have. It does seem weird that the people who dislike her always seem to pick away bitterly at peripheral issues. I thought the Roberta Smith review was probably the closest to really looking at the shortcomings in a fair way.
Usually the nitpicking seems personal. It's weird.

eageageag said...

I think if the painter does nothing more with a photograph than try to copy it verbatim, and badly at that, then it would be true to say 'the painted version' does not add anything to the photograph. But I think one must also take into account, when considering the way a painter utilizes photographic source material, the way they employ: careful editing and cropping, alteration of scale and proportion, handling of the brush or whatever tool they are using, and inventive use of color. These are all formal elements of a painting. But what about other things like the fact that photographs and films generate memories and become part of our fabric of being as much as any 'real' thing; the people we have known, the places we have lived, the things we have done. My childhood memories are a complete mish mash of films and television clips, photographs, comic books, illustrations, and all of the things I lived through, both actual and imagined. All of this stuff is intertwined. Not only are they inseparable, they seamlessly blend and transform into something new during the act of remembering and while we dream. Of course there are certain painters who use photographs because they specifically want to dwell upon the nature of media and reproductive technology. But that is not the case with all painters who use photographs and illustrations for a source of inspiration. I get the feeling that critics who dismiss painters who use photographs asssume that their use of photographs for inspiration indicates a lack of imagination or creative bankruptcy.

vc said...

I don't think she's that bad a painter at all. The restraint with which she almost doesn't paint is not that easy. I fear that those who trash her technique as "lazy" have a too-limited concept of competent painting. And that includes me. I've never been SATISFIED by her technique, but she refuses to satisfy in a challenging way. In other words, she knows what she's doing. Her paint handling is much more expert and substantive than Dana Schutz, who is the first paint-slatherer who comes to mind.

eageageag said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eageageag said...

Facebook is 'social' in the sense that it provides people with the opportunity to satisfy their morbid curiosity and look up people from their past and discover how they turned out. I have been on and off Facebook for about a year now and I am convinced that more often than not people 'Friend" other people just to make themselves feel better about themselves, and no tangible real friendships ever come from it. "They got fat!", "They're still not married?", "She married him?", "I knew they would never (fill in the blank)", etc.

You make some good points vc. I guess the real dividing line with Dumas' technique is whether or not you consider her washes, drips, brushiness, and shorthand to be a bag of tricks or a style that was long fought for, a perfect balancing of control and accident.

Nomi Lubin said...

Hey! What are you trying to say about my 350 closest facebook friends?

Facebook is a lot like most things on the internets -- good, bad, ugly, beautiful.

zipthwung said...

Facebook is weird.

I remember rotary phones and TRS-80 home computers and magazines for importing brides from Russia and Thailand.

"the unreflective use of photography and photojournalism"

is a sin.

Painting heads is easy as far as composition goes - and single close cropped figures is also facile (I love that put down).

SO if facile paint handling doesn't impress me either - anyone can learn to paint, it's not magic.

On the other hand, I like movies made from Steven King novels, but I don't like reading them, except maybe on tape, which is also,

a sin.

But what is the hullabaloo about Dumas? She's a competent watercolorist and she likes kinky stuff or whatever.

But without the money behind her we wouldn't rank her any higher than
Kelli here, who has yet to have a work purchased by a museum, let alone a mini retrospective.

I don't get it.

I don't see Dumas as "imaginative" in the sense of invented worlds, or originality of thought, which is something I value in art - as opposed to realism which values or privileges mood and tone (which are important but look out for Fashion and design) but often lacks the kind of content I value.

Being a keen observer might help, but Dumas is not a journalist or a forensic scientist. That would be a more interesting back story.


Dumas seems closer to comic book or graphic novel art than Serano, who is closer to fetish magazines.

Just add text.

zipthwung said...

Also more on full retard from Saltz:

Talking about the rollicking mockumentary Tropic Thunder, we were stupefied by the observation Robert Downey Jr., performing in blackface—already off the charts in terms of bad taste, but somehow perfect—made to the Ben Stiller character. When acting, he said, “never go full retard.”

here

I could catalogue more references to the movie - but it's interesting art folks are on this meme.

eageageag said...

Just to be perfectly clear, my comments about photography and painting were not meant to be a defense of Dumas' art.

"I don't see Dumas as "imaginative" in the sense of invented worlds, or originality of thought, which is something I value in art."

So when will you post jpegs of your work online zip, so we can connect the words with the art?

The Battlestar Art World coming up soon.

Nomi Lubin said...

Painting heads is easy as far as composition goes

Not true. Close cropped, not close cropped -- not true.

Barnaby said...

I love facebook.

zipthwung said...

My work is like grant wood meets Andrew Wyeth, but retarded.

I disagree Nomi, a head is an oval, and simple ovals fit easily inside rectangles, in my experience.

How can I give credit for something I do myself because it's eay (i.e. imensely satisfying?) No, criticality demands we lambaste those that take the easy way out, even if it is us.

Look at Picasso when he starts phoning it in with geometric shapes.

Start with a figure. Put both almond shaped eyes on the same side of the face with a triangular nose. DO it again and again.

I never did like Picasso. Not even once. But that bastard is having so much fun and laughing al the way to the bank. How dare he.

Too much controll, too much concern with getting it right" or "making it sophisticated" makes the painting look like an act.

Better to be a hack than a drone.

ANd Picasso didn't care, but he still put on the act. I go to my studio every day and make a painting.

What a laugh.

When I show it willbe three or four paintings cut from my diseased liver. Maybe you'll see it and know it.

eageageag said...

Send me some jpegs. I will delete them after I look at them.

Yeah your right Barnaby and Nomi. Facebook is cool. I think it would be fun to make a performance art 'piece' where you create two Facebook personas, one an ultra successful person who has everything other people might want, and the other, a person who lives in a cardboard box, lives under a bridge, and who suffers all the torments life can offer. But I also thing Facebook has a dar side. "Hey let me get in touch with someone I knew many years ago, find out what their life turned out like, and then ignore them again."

Nomi Lubin said...

Well, you gotta not accept "friends" like that. We all know who those people are already.

Gets tricky if you're talking about some sort of circle of people and you don't want to offend anyone . . . but really, if you can't decide who you let in on facebook . . .

Eva said...

I love Facebook - and Dumas. It is a little weird though that the critic chooses Facebook over a review - after all, he's a critic. Maybe he's not, in the end, comfortable with what he's been pushing all these years about her.

Nomi Lubin said...

I don't know zipthwung. I'm no genius in following what you're saying, but it sounds like you're supporting my point.

If it's easy and formulaic, something's wrong. Something's terribly wrong that cannot be disguised.

I don't mean that painting can never come easily AND be good. Of course not.

But scale is a mysterious and elusive thing.

vc said...

Barnett Newman said the only way to achieve content is through scale. Imagine if that were true. Maybe it is.

zipthwung said...

i'll out myself one day soon - or someone will do it for me like they do for Steve Kaplan.

Price of being an ass is the wages of something.

Ask and ye shall receive just as soon as I get my other shit together so I can get back to the question and the answer.

No, Nomi, I agree, formula is bad, except when you have to pay the bills and feed the baby and quit worrying and love the bomb.

But I think the point with Dumas is that when you see the work all at the same time you realize what her formula is - and i don't think for an instant that people don't have formulas.

In fact if you look at famous "total improvisers" in Jazz, they follow pattersn - just like people who speak in toungues - there is a method to the madness, as Shakespeare would say (whoever he was).

Ten billion monkeys will have their say.

But I'm more concerned with Dumas as a painter of "dark" (Joy Garnett) and not "dreary" (Jerry Saltz) because if that's what it is, then I'll point you to a zillion graphic novels worthy of that appelation or label or whatever. But I am weary.

Like Raymond Pettibon (who would be a good part of the upcoming show I will curate entitled "The Darkness" (It's only a feeling)

Including that table in the shape of the Black Flag logo I saw (great design but pretty dumb as art)

Raymond likes dog fighting, supposedly. Like that adds anything to his "punk" ouvre. Are we to infer that not driving makes Dumas a sort of steampunk Victorian? I don't think so, it just means she doesn't drive. And being fom SOuth Africa - well look at William Kentridge - he's nothing special - but he gets tons of art press.

Why?

Well, we know why. But I;m just calling it like I see it, which is that there is a good deal of branding going on, regardless of the skill of the artist.


Mostly you will sea change when people get older and the market for younger artists matures - the focus on fresh young things is just one current.

eageageag said...

"but really, if you can't decide who you let in on facebook..."

Let me give one specific example and maybe that will clarify what I am trying to say. Someone you used to know in high school sends you an ADD AS FRIEND message. You agree to it because many years ago you were friends with them in high school. You have not seen them for a very long time. After you confirm them they say hi and ask you what you have been up to. You give them a brief description of what your life is like. Then you don't hear back from them again. There they are, still lined up in the friends list, but you feel like deleting them. You feel judged big time. Obviously I can just delete them, but still...If you need to promote yourself or your band Facebook is just swell. If you are like me, it is as good as useless.

Oh yeah back to Dumas. I have never seen a single work by Marlene Dumas. There. That is my review. You say potato and I say potato. One person might hate Dumas' this or that and another person might love her this and that. She is tremendously successful so people will focus on her and have opinions about her. The same goes for any successful artist. But I say bring on the sour grapes. I love them.

I enjoyed Kentridge's films when I saw them years ago and that is why I wrote a positive review of them. But I ain't his fucking muse and I certainly wasn't trying to bolster the Kentridge brand when I wrote the review. I was stoned when I saw the films and weird shit goes on in them.

I dare any artist to achieve success and then create a body of work that will not be attacked/lauded by a bunch of artists and critics. As soon as you have success you become disliked/liked by certain segments of the art world. It is gang warfare out there motherfucker.

As soon as zip becomes associated with a specific body of work, all of his writings will be judged differently. Oh he's saying that because he makes that kind of art.

No one wants to become an art world "New Coke". If you have a recognizable style and then you try to do something that disrupts the stylistic pattern you will either bellyflop or be heralded as a risk taker. Either way there will be ups and downs in a career, if there is a career that is, and many artists do not recover from the downs. Remember many of the artists who appeared in the glossies in previous decades have been completely forgotten. So lets not waste too much time on the successful artists. There is art to be made.

zipthwung said...

Facebook is like an extrovert's heaven or an introvert's window into extroversion.

Facebook isn't helping me - in fact I think it's making me seem like a Fakebooker - not really my style - all that surface, none of the depth -although the distancing is good, because I hate dealing with people without mediation, often.

The Dumas effect is mediated. How many fans does she have, really?

What I've seen of Dumas hasn't made me run to the museum to see what all the fuss is about. I'd go for a Cat Woman comic book first.

I feel duty bound to go see the show, but then again I've been shirking that duty, and it feels good.

Let her audience be the authority, I'll cede the power. Dumas? Oh you like her? Yeah, I was never that into her. No, I havent seen her show. Oh yeah, i should go. No, I'm pretty busy. I'll go if you go though, I'm into you. I don't know her.

No love.

When you look at the quality of the work on paintersnyc, for example, as compared to a survey of everything else, PNYC holds up pretty well.

Should I spend 20 bucks or a free day on a show I'm not into purely for reasons of authority? Money? Buzz? Age?

Cheap thrills. Go for the building.

My beef is more metaphysical - what's the point, what's it all about, if it's just a mood ring then leave art out of it.

Unless art is all about mood to you - then you are communicating mood I suppose - which is where I'm at with Dumas. Her tone, or tenor.
Because intellectually there isn't anything for me that I don't bring myself. And I don't think it's catalytic or pregnant or evocative or posessing of something I don't get more of (if hamfistedly) in a movie or photograph or a death metal song or a walk in the woods).

How else can I say it?

If it's self expression (as Dumas is) then what's your damage, and shouldn't you do something about it, or maybe you can't but try being self aware. Show some change, even if you are faking it.

Is Dumas self aware? Probably. But if you let your audience in on it, then you are destroying the illusion, and also, the cachet.

No money exchanges hands.

Which is to say marketing is important - and as an artist you have to be sensitive (like Obama) to the needs of the audience, which are pathological.

In the end I see Dumas as a wan attenuated shadow of a serial killer, an "American Psycho" for the conservative - a but heavier than Robert Longo, a but lighter than the corpse fuckers who never will be recognized as art by anyone.

she'sgone said...

I find the "creepiness"ofDumas' work very obvious,almost silly,adolescent.It aint terrible.But it's just too easy to get areaction from sensational stuff like this.

eageageag said...

"a but heavier than Robert Longo, a but lighter than the corpse fuckers who never will be recognized as art by anyone."

Can you give a specific example of who you are referring to when you use the term 'corpse fuckers'?

Martin said...

David Cohen wrote a fairly positive review of the Dumas show also. What is John Haber talking about when he says the NY critics have uniformly hated this show?

Elizabeth said...

I'm very comfortable with Dumas' expression, having seen it for the first time at MoMA. I'm in her age range, and the "darkness" in her work is very familiar to me, born at the end of a repressive age for women, and is probably also informed by the atmosphere of racism and violence in South Africa when she was young (assuming she grew up in South Africa). The darkness is sweet to me because I recognize it, and it gives me a kind of low keyed, but feeling joy to see it. I admire the painting's succinctness and don't find it lacking. I wonder if part of the problem some have with her work is, an obvious one--the role reversal with power. The work has power, but given through the eyes of a "disempowered," psyche, or psychological model. That is, powerful, succinct work, that's dark, and shows the "other side." Also, having lost both my parents, I found the death figures very moving--as the dead live with us, even in death.

zipthwung said...

"Shimmel covers his immense subject with a certain arbitrariness and a definite Expressionist bias that yields much in the way of naked bodies (mostly female), bodily fluids and several incidents of complete tastelessness (the most extreme of which is an undocumented performance said to involve sex with a cadaver)."

Roberta Smith

There's a book titled transgressive something or other I think that names names. I can't find it though.


People die. It's a fact. But people move away too - I don't see a difference between death and absence sometimes. A death in the family is hard to take but it happens to everyone.

In the same way, lots of people grow up without much TV in provincial backwaters and then move to the city - if anything Dumas is a kind of cultural cliche.

The human condition.

The legal issues are probably interesting with regards to Dumas - namely that depictions of necrophillia -(art) are now illegal in many countries.

Just a hunch.

Subject matter is weird - does Dumas translate?

Having lost a parent, I find movies resonant - any movie where the dead come to life, or haunt and possess you. "The Shining," for example.

Great shower scene.

Movies about plagues are cathartic - the 28 months later movie included a scene where the wife comes back - the ambiguity involved with guilt (abandonment) is probably art, even if the rest of the movie is dumb mindless violence (which is good too - especially the first scene, which is in the top 10 for atavistic thrills).

If it's not in the work I don't see it - I'm so objective, sometimes all I see are splatters of red on white tile. I know, it's tough, but someone has to be on point when other people are grazing at the trough, eyes down.

I'm not privileging this point of view - you go ahead and include biography in your analysis of the work. For me there is only the here and the now.

From my perspective, South Africa is a place that mints gold coins called Krugerands, and when the economy collapses, I hope you have some of those to buy paint with to commit the times to paint. Because they will be dark, but again, I will only see shapes and colors.

As far as the corpse fucking thing goes - is transgression good art?

What isn't art?

I'll find the names of the people that claimed necrophillia as their art if you want - but there are plenty of examples of "outsiders" who derived esthetic pleasure from playing with dead bodies - people who never read Bataille or Genet (like me).

eageageag said...

Thanks for clearing things up zip. FPSs rule!

Anonymous said...

i mean jerry's right, did anyone see this show? i saw at MoCA in LA and it was pretty boring especially when the adjacent Kippenberger show went up, while nice to see a bunch at once there really is little original in the work. here's a question i've never read the author of this blog answer, what do you find original in her work?

Elizabeth said...

Hey, anonymous, I saw the show and said so in my post. Regards . . .

Anonymous said...

I wonder if part of the problem some have with her work is, an obvious one--the role reversal with power.

Touche, Elizabeth. You said it. People are uncomfortable because she's very much at ease with her skills and power, almost careless with it. And plenty of men have that subtle bravado and are cheered for it.

And as to the question of "originality" - that is so tired. Stop expecting the woman artist to reinvent the wheel. If the men can lift from art history and contemporaries and be "informed" by this artist and that movement, so can she.

zipthwung said...

I'm intrigued by the idea that anyone who is critical od Dumas is somehow uncomfortable, threatened or otherwise discombobulated by the dumas affect.

"People are uncomfortable"

Could you elaborate on this?

I have a feeling that this is wishfull thinking sometimes - that somehow the critic is not objective because they have some kind of hang-up.

If you think about it, the critic of the critic might have a hang up - and so on.

Only disconnect?

How do you respond to my criticism that Dumas is no different (and no less valuable) than a good graphic novel - The Watchmen or The Sandman?

Wat does it say about or culture when something is valued merely because it is large and on a wall in a gallery?

The power of placement.

And secondly, but more interesting to me, the question of originality - a very pregnant question, to be sure.

I don;t think anyone can take it seriously at this late date.

By way of example, hyperbolic claims are made every day as to the influence of artists. I just read that Thomas Nozkowski and Mary Heilman are "some of the most influential painters today" - which if true, must mean I haven't been looking at all, and that the painters I know are not in the loop.

Could it be that the last month has brough about an explosion of derivative works, budded from the stalk of these giants?

Why do we need to market artists based on their "influence"?

How shallow is that?

Status seekers beware, I have a very shrp knife for your bubble.

zipthwung said...

I mean I level the same criticisms at male artists - so am I sexist or merely misanthropic?

WHat is acceptible criticism of Dumas that is not sexist, and objective?

WHat does she do that is available for criticsim, or is she above reproach?

If criticism is not necessary, then maybe museums are not necessary.

If museums are not necessary, then maybe e should go back to regionalism, supporting homegrown artists, and celebrating differences rather than pretending international translations of some soft of myth of cosmopolitanism.

Indeed, maybe we should stop judging and simply let people do what they want, without priviledging foreign exotics and novelty acts over the familiar and homegrown.

let a thousand provincials bloom!

Gina B said...

I think Dumas is only the 6th woman to be given a retrospective at Moma...

I felt impressed with her skills, like someone said, washy restraint aint easy. I felt her strongest pieces were on paper and I was kind of blown away with the effects she achieves with watercolor. The faces of Jesus, the vertical nudes and those canvases of the girl in a towel were some of the best. The girl in a towel felt so vulnerable, a good match for how thinly it was painted.

I'm in awe of facebook...

Alida Snyman said...

I simply cannot believe you guys!!! Are you morbidly unhappy about the way your lives turned out? Why get all personal about somebody's art...Can anyone of you sneery "critics" really paint 2 decent strokes on cavass? I doubt it. Did you go to CRITICS UNIVERSITY where you obviously failed in Ethics? Or are you merely a bunch of wannabe painters to never made it and now HAS TO TAKE IT OUT ON THE SUCCESSFUL ONES.
Marlene was at Bloemhof Girl's High School with me in South Africa. What a talented, beautiful free sprit she was!!! Kind-hearted, sweet and adored by EVERY-ONE...Quite an achievement in an all-girl-environment where witches are breeded. Even our late headmistress "Laaiza" adored her. Together with her sister, Annatjie, the two of them always had a soft word for someone in need of comforting.
Can you guys not for once try to find something good to say about her? I see this as professional jealousy...Maybe the astronomic prices for her art reached at Christie's has something to do with it...Does it? Just remember, she does not bid on her own paintings.
In South Africa most people are brought up with good values, one of which was instilled by my parents: If you can not find ANYTHING good / nice to say about someone, rather say NOTHING AT ALL!
Alida Snyman (Louw) Bloemhof 1969 to 1973.
Personal note to Marlenetjie: "YOU GO GIRL!!! You REALLY make us proud!"

Anonymous said...

Marlene Dumas is giggling in her studio reading these inane posts while she continues making paintings. Dumas has taken the dirty corners of shadows in dutch paintings and the leftover colors on your palette to create images that would make Goya jealous. She is a master, I can't think of another living painter I think about on a daily basis.