The Sublimity of Marlene Dumas’ Portraits in Venice

The Venice exhibition follows some of the recurring themes in Dumas’ production as a way of organizing the works on display. The show occupies two entire floors of Palazzo Grassi, which are dedicated respectively to “Myths & Mortals” and “Double Takes.” Among these broader categories, the works are divided into smaller groups, each dedicated either to an emotion or to a specific set of people or experiences. There are sections dedicated to desire, absence, and love as represented by couples, or the Spleen, the melancholic state described by Charles Baudelaire in his Paris Spleen collection of prose poems. But there are also aliens, deities, children and mythological characters, and vices and magical rituals, all of which had a significant impact on Dumas’ life and oeuvre.

The exhibition is an orgy of faces and themes, and much like a personal diary, it contains nearly everything. Sacred and profane, private and public, real and fictional, all these elements merge together in a kaleidoscopic experience. The intent is clear, as it appears from the very title of the exhibition, Open-End: the exhibition is a reminder of all the dichotomies and paradoxes we constantly experience in our lives.

And it was Marlene Dumas herself that chose the title of the show. In the exhibition catalog, the artist explains it as follows:

In the same catalog, François Pinault, president of Palazzo Grassi, defines Dumas’ work as bearing a “terrible beauty”- a beauty that is at the same time seductive and frightening. In fact, one can find contrasting feelings in Dumas’ production, and a recurring sense of suffering, but there are also joyous elements and a pervasive sense of freedom, both personal, sexual, and intellectual. This unique mix creates a powerful sense of liberation, almost intimidating in its force and lure.

The exhibition is, therefore, a double-sided mirror. It brings us into Dumas’ world, while also forcing us to ponder and reflect on our lives, and all the contrasts, characters, and emotions we necessarily live through. And just like a diary where the last few pages are left blank, it keeps an open end for us to continue the story.

The show Marlene Dumas. Open-End is curated by the artist in collaboration with Caroline Bourgeois and runs in Palazzo Grassi, Venice, from March 27, 2022, through January 8, 2023.

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