Disturbing Dumas Divides Critics

South African painter's first American retrospective opens at MoMA
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 12, 2008 8:26 AM CST
A painting by Marlene Dumas in London. Her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which opened this week, has divided the critics.   (Getty Images)
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(Newser) – The South African painter Marlene Dumas has established herself as one of the most challenging artists of recent times, and her austere, anonymous portraits are loved and loathed in equal measures. Sure enough, her first American retrospective—entitled Measuring Your Own Grave, opening this week at MoMA in New York—divided critics. Bloomberg calls the show "hypnotic," while Artnet dismisses it as "lazy."

Dumas, who left South Africa for the Netherlands in the 1970s, exhibits 70 paintings and 35 works on paper, depicting prostitutes, prisoners, and the dead, but also newborns and even some self-portraits. For Bloomberg critic Linda Yablonsky, Dumas "takes on Big Themes—sex, death, birth, race, motherhood—without sensationalizing or sentimentalizing them." Roberta Smith, in the New York Times, is lukewarm, finding the pieces riveting individually, but "monotonous and obvious when seen in bulk." But for Artnet's Charlie Finch, her work is just "perved up" painting, "devoid of true color, pictorial skill, new ideas and pleasure of any kind."