Yes, five artists viewing a retrospective exhibit of another artist, what could be better than that? The show: Marlene Dumas at MOCA. The five artists: Ilona Bloch, Nicole Duet, Richard Bruland (check out his new web site), Dori Atlantus and moi. Yes, five fellow travelers who experienced extraordinary synergy that day. Our first impressions of the show were quite good entering the first of many rooms; Rather large painted portraits filling up pretty much the entire canvas and hung well above human height; now that’s clever hanging. And most of them not only grabbed your attention but also sucked you in to explore her found/lost forms and lines along with very unexpected color placements, to which I personally resonated well. Such portraits as her 1984 “Genetic Longing” or a favorite for all of us, her “Evil Is Banal” or “Het Kwaad is Banaal” in her native lingo.
But, after a succession of further rooms, I came to the realization that I could not find any neutral or middle comfort zone in her works, I either found them well developed or awkwardly unremarkable. But I realize there’s awkward a la fantastic and then awkward not so fantastic. Her four large panels, 71 x 35 inches each, depicting full body infants and titled “The First People (I-IV)” is awkward but its accomplished renderings, coloration, juxtapositions, etc. make it all work. Not so with most of her over hydrated watercolor or ink works. An example would be her huge hangings on one or two entire walls of small ink, watercolor and/or chalk portrait sketches layered out as so many rows of monotonic and monotonous tessera. Others might see this compilation as monumental but I saw it as rather superficial. The same can be said for many of her erotic or pornographic works, all too often saying little more than the obvious. Call me old fashioned, but I want to see something that sends my jaded eyes on erotic topics over the top.
However, I want to be clear that irrespective of my personal reactions to her work, she is more than worth a visit because, in my opinion at least, when she’s good, she’s really, really good.