Marlene Dumas: Controversial Yet Uninspired

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 36 months ago
Marlene Dumas: Controversial Yet Uninspired ★☆☆☆☆ 1
A painting of Amy Winehouse is one of the few portraits in this exhibition with emotional weight. © Marlene Dumas
A painting of Amy Winehouse is one of the few portraits in this exhibition with emotional weight. © Marlene Dumas
This self-portrait is entitled 'Evil is banal', based on Hannah Arendt's writings on the Nazis. © Marlene Dumas
This self-portrait is entitled 'Evil is banal', based on Hannah Arendt's writings on the Nazis. © Marlene Dumas
This giant painting is of Dumas's daughter Helena. © Marlene Dumas
This giant painting is of Dumas's daughter Helena. © Marlene Dumas
Pauline Lumumba walked bare breasted through the streets of Kinshasa to mourn her husband Patrice who had been assassinated. © Marlene Dumas
Pauline Lumumba walked bare breasted through the streets of Kinshasa to mourn her husband Patrice who had been assassinated. © Marlene Dumas
A dying heroine is carried by her lover in the work which gives the exhibition its title - the image as burden. © Marlene Dumas
A dying heroine is carried by her lover in the work which gives the exhibition its title - the image as burden. © Marlene Dumas

Londonist Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Marlene Dumas is a South African born painter renowned for her 'washed-out' style of portraiture, which often tackles controversial subject matter. But a retrospective of her work at Tate Modern proves that controversy alone doesn't make for good art.

The difficulty with Dumas's work is that her spectral style, using thin layers of paint, makes it difficult to convey any emotional impact. Indeed, in many of the works at Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden, we struggled to see anything beyond the sitter. The paintings of her daughter are varied, but despite the portrayals of her in an ethereal ghostly light, it's never actually clear what Dumas wants the viewer to feel.

Dumas has also painted celebrity figures such as Naomi Campbell and Princess Diana, but once again, these portraits fail to add anything to already-familiar public personas. The one exception is a painting of Amy Winehouse, in which she comes across as pensive and introspective.

There are political works on display including a portrait of Osama Bin Laden and a dead female terrorist after her attempted hijacking of an aeroplane. Once again there's no additional insight. One political work that did strike a chord with us was of Jews praying at the controversial West Bank barrier separating Israel from Palestine, rather that in front of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount as one would expect.

Successful modern portraiture conveys something that other media such as photography and video can't capture. In Dumas's works this is sadly lacking, and we found much of her work to be uninspiring and, dare we say, boring.

Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden is on at Tate Modern until 10 May. Tickets are £14.50 for adults, concessions available. Closing soon at Tate Modern is the experimental art of Sigmar Polke and running until March is the excellent war photography of Conflict, Time, Photography.

For more art to see in London, see our top 10 art openings for February.

Last Updated 05 February 2015

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I disagree! Certainly not boring art. Watercolours are really something else.