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Marlene Dumas – The body in its raw state

[10 Jul 2012]

 

Among the most sought-after female artists on the market, Marlene Dumas has a special and unavoidable position on the Contemporary scene.  For over 35 years she has frankly questioned viewers’ interpretations by confronting them with her controversial representations of the human body. With disconcerting simplicity, her portraits explore the dark and beautiful realities of life with brutal honesty.

Marlene DUMAS was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1953. At the end of her art studies at the Michaelis School of Fine Art (1972-1975), she left her homeland for Europe and settled in the Netherlands where she continued her art studies at the Atelier ’63 in Haarlem (1976-1978). She then studied psychology at the University of Amsterdam (1979-1980) and exhibited her work for the first time in Paris in 1979.

As of the 1980s, her work focused on the human figure exploring existential subjects such as racism, sexuality, religion, notions of guilt and forgiveness, innocence, violence, motherhood and childhood. To these recurring themes, she juxtaposes questions related to her own history. She often uses faded colours in her drawings and strong colours in her paintings like the fascinating oil painting Jule, Die Vrou, of a woman’s face, bathed in red, with only the eyes and lips – attributes of seduction and sexuality – precisely depicted. This work of powerful psychological tension was acquired for $1.1m on November 10, 2004 (Christie’s New York).
Marlene Dumas confronts the body with the obscure shapes of dark desire, perverse situations which question the viewer about the way he/she sees the work.

Her auction debuts
Her first appearances at auction date from 1994 and were logically in her adopted country, the Netherlands. That year, three drawings and paintings found buyers for between $790 and $3,100. Receiving support from auction houses and collectors, her acrylic and pencil on canvas The girl can’t help it went to auction twice fetching $1,115 in March and then finding a buyer nine months later for $3,110 (Christie’s Amsterdam, December 7, 1994). The year 1999 marked a turning point in her career with her first exhibition at the Museum Kunst Hedendaagse in Antwerp. The event confirmed her stature on the international stage and the effects on her prices were quick to materialise: on May 20 of the same year Christie’s New York generated her first hammer price above $22,000, with an ink on paper entitled Checkered Skirt.

A high-end market
When in 2001/2002, the Centre Pompidou and the New Museum of New York organised the first touring retrospective of her works on paper, Name No Names, her market prices climbed even further. Initially, Christie’s New York confirmed the increase in 2002 by signing a new record of $42,000 for Candle Burning (November 14), and then in 2003 the artist crossed the $100,000 threshold three times, followed in 2004 by a 7-figure result for Jule, Die Vrou and then two more in 2005 for The Garden and The Teacher (Sub a) which fetched respectively $1.2m and $2.9m (Christie’s New York, November 8 and Christie’s London, February 9).
Continuing her meteoric rise, her price index increased by 200% between 2000 and 2008! Apart from the excited mindset of the art market at that time, her retrospective « Measuring Your Own Grave » at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, then at the MoMA in New York, probably contributed substantially to the impressive inflation of her prices. In 2008, an oil on canvas entitled The Visitor fetched $5.61m (£2.28m) setting her auction record to date. This impressive work (180 x 300 cm), painted in 1995, reveals a scene where six prostitutes with their backs turned to the viewer, stare at a lit doorway, waiting for a visitor…In 2011, Marlene Dumas was the 310th best-selling artist in the world with an annual auction turnover exceeding € 3.5 million. Her oil paintings (only 84 compared with 239 results for her drawings and water-colours) are rarer and better valued. To acquire one of her typical works, plan a minimum budget of $100,000 to $200,000 (for oil paintings and for water-colours). Purchase opportunities are nowadays rare at less than $20,000 and generally concern less powerful water-colours like 2 Candles Burnt Up (€18,000, Christie’s New York, November 9, 2011). Nowadays, only her prints are affordable at less than $5,000.

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