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Lot 72: Marlene Dumas (b. 1953)

Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

by Christie's

May 11, 2010

New York, NY, USA

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Description: Marlene Dumas (b. 1953)
Stella
signed, titled, dated and inscribed 'M Dumas STELLA 2000 PS...as in star as in Streetcar Named Desire, as in Frank Stella...' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
90¾ x 23¾ in. (230.5 x 60.3 cm.)
Painted in 2000.

Notes: Stella
I've always enjoyed making links to other artists.
This often shows through my titles, which to me is like a childlike play.
The likeneness between these works are often only cosmetic.
Take my 'Stella' and compare it to the early Frank Stella's I admire
so for their cool American beauty of (seemingly) effortless clarity.
My Stella is a figure that can't decide whether to be a solid matter
of fact or just a figure of speech. A figure caught between a flat space
and a deeper space -- a hard, aloof space and an illusionistic
emotional space. It is not about what is the better place to be.
It is not even about making a "she" out of a "he".
It is just my way to pay my dues to all the different types of Stella's that have crossed my mind.

Marlene Dumas

Notes on - All is Fair in Love and War. May, 2001


With her towering and ominous presence in dissolved darkness, Stella stands out as one of Marlene Dumas's most impressive tributes to the influences of her artistic career. The painting depicts a larger than life-size female figure, scantily-clad and standing in full, frontal position, cloaked behind a veil-like, grid structure. The figure's body fills the entire frame of the canvas. Stella's seductive silhouette penetrates the seemingly sheer layers of paint that cover her like a luminescent curtain, enticing the eye, while maintaining a sense of mystery. As Dumas suggests, "you enter the theater of seduction. You pay for the pleasure to quiver with anticipation. You stick to the rules. Strippers might stretch the rules. You don't. You have to know your place. You have come, so that she can make you wait" (quoted in Strippinggirls, February 2000).

Executed following Dumas' celebrated Stripping Girls series, 2000, Dumas plays with the notion of window shopping for prostitutes, as the artist witnessed herself, living in Amsterdam. As Dumas states, 'the public display of nudity has always been one of my main artistic interests' (Ibid). But the painting is more than just a game that invites the viewer. Dumas remarks, 'it's a stripping down to that melancholy sex appeal that makes surnames disappear and first names fictional' (ibid). Stella's personal identity is stripped, as is her image, which is visually scarred vertically and horizontally with pearly brushstrokes. The painting rescues Stella from anonymity and creates for her an identity, immortalizing her within a field of namelessness, a recurring motif explored in the artist's works.

Stella is Dumas's direct tribute to the character by the same name in Tennessee William's "A Streetcar Named Desire" and also to fellow visual artist, Frank Stella. Dumas introduces names of mythological women in other works created around this time, naming them after powerful females including Aurora (goddess of dawn in Roman mythology) and Electra.

In the simplicity of these white stripes, outlining the black background, Dumas achieves the harmonic union of seemingly disparate elements, likening her to Frank Stella, as in one of his iconic early works, The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II, 1959. Dumas use of Stella's idea of stripes -- the oscillation between rhythm and interval, depth and flatness -- implies an ever-changing state, an undefined space and existence. Whereas in Frank Stella's painting, the white, vertical stripes are created by the absence of paint, Dumas's vertical strokes cover the surface of her canvas, concealing and framing the figure. Despite their differences, both Frank Stella and Dumas reveal irregularities in the lines of their stripes, with the slight gestural waverings of their brush evidencing their act of painting.

Working from the subject matter found in her collection of source imagery, Dumas's mediation reinvests Stella's sexual image with elements of secrecy and promise, and restores its eroticism and desire. The artist's subtle references and the fundamental significance of her imagery, along with her idiosyncratic painting technique, make this piece one of the finest syntheses of Dumas's artistic influences, and a rare example of blurred boundaries between the artist and her subject matter.

Provenance: Jack Tilton Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Exhibited: New York, Jack Tilton/Anna Kustera Gallery, All is Fair in Love and War, June-July 2001.

Literature: Sirmans, Franklin, Marlene Dumas: Jack Tilton/Anna Kustera Gallery, Tema Celeste Contemporary Art, September - October, 2001, p.80.

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