Painter Marlene Dumas’ show, Myths and Mortals, a return to David Zwirner‘s New York gallery space, comprises 22 paintings and 33 works on paper divided into three parts, showcasing the artist’s sense of narrative and interconnected meaning. The first series of works includes large scale and smaller scale oil on canvas paintings that explore the dynamics of love. The second part includes ink washes on paper depicting Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis story, as translated by the Dutch Hafid Bouazza, and is constructed in a highly narrative style with the story moving chronologically with explicit references. The third returns to canvas and oil paintings and begins to explore the themes of Venus and Adonis although with the more general factors of romance, lust and true love.
The oil paintings come predominantly as large scale portraits of single figures, men and women that introduce the “mortal” element of the show (Awkward, 2018). Interspersed among these are smaller-scale paintings referred to as “erotic landscapes” which focus around nipples, mouths, kisses and the physicality of desire and longing in exhalation and inhalation. These themes are further emphasized by the use of paint itself applied in wide washes and varied opacities. One is reminded of the temporal and fickle nature of love through the considerable variety of translucency, vibrancy of color and skillful use of the brush stroke.
The ink washes on paper are strikingly narrative and mythological as well, following Venus as she falls in love with the young Adonis. Their ringlets of hair and bodily figures are sensuous in their youth, strength and beauty. Despite Venus’s willful advances Adonis, who is chaste and uninterested in love and lust, insists that he goes on a wildboar hunt. His solitary and determined decision is depicted through a fully straight standing figure holding a stick across his back (Adonis leaves for the hunt). Ignoring Venus’s and warnings he is subsequently killed by a heavily dark boar (The wild boar) which is one of four animal portraits in the show. Venus is morning him as he transforms into a purple flower with white spots. These ink washes are smaller than the oils and are mostly monochromatic with color most significantly shown in the The flower.
The last set of works returns again to large scale oil paintings and in these the themes of love are again made universal. It is no longer just Venus Adonis but rather the everyman and the everywoman who experience the extremes of love (Struck, 2017) and the extremes of loss (Longing 2018). Throughout, Dumas shows a masterful use of both allegory and studied figuration to explore these timeless tales and familiar forms anew, a testament to her enduring talent and craft as an artist.
Myths and Mortals is on view through June 30th.
— J. Cardenas
Marlene Dumas at David Zwirner [Exhibition View]