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Marlene Dumas at Palazzo Grassi, Venice

The Venice Biennale 2022 has just opened to the public and, along with it, a huge solo exhibition on the South African abstract artist Marlene Dumas (1953, Cape Town). The exhibition of Dumas’s work debuted at Palazzo Grassi, one of the most established contemporary centers in the city of Venice. It was bought by the French collector François Pinault in 2005.

Fig. 1 – Installation view of “Marlene Dumas. Open-end” at the Palazzo Grassi, 2022.

© Palazzo Grassi © Marlene Dumas

This exhibition is part of a cycle of monographic shows dedicated to major contemporary artists, launched in 2012. This year’s exhibition, entitled “Open-end”, is curated by Caroline Bourgeois in direct collaboration with the artist herself, Marlene Dumas. The show brings together more than 100 works, spanning the entirety of Marlene’s career, from 1984 up until today. It features an incredible selection of paintings and drawings that include unseen works created in these last few years. The works that are on display at Palazzo Grassi come, of course, from the Pinault collection, but also from museums and private collections all around the world.

Considered one of the most influential artists on the contemporary art scene, Marlene Dumas was born in 1953 in Cape Town, South Africa. After growing up in the awful times of the Apartheid regime, she moved to Europe in 1976. Having settled in Amsterdam, where she completed her studies, she found a new home, that she has not left up until today.

Her artistic career has been a fruitful and variegate one. Dumas started to express herself through collages and texts, Dumas later moved on to painting, which is still her favorite media up until today. Her paintings, both on canvas and on paper, are in majority, portraits that represent the universality of emotions - suffering, pain, fear, ecstasy, but they are also focused on the analysis of the act of painting itself. Thus, they focus on the role of being a painter, an artist, someone whose main task is that of creating something that can speak a universal language. For inspiration, Marlene turns to newspapers and magazines, to documentaries and films, or to pictures taken by her that represent the reality. As she puts it, “I am an artist who uses second-hand images and first-hand emotions.”[1]

Fig. 2 – Installation view of “Marlene Dumas. Open-end” at the Palazzo Grassi, 2022.

© Palazzo Grassi © Marlene Dumas

The major questions that her art raises have to do with life and death of all, investigating themes such as gender and race, violence and love, innocence and violence, thus combining an extremely intimate sphere with a socio-political one. Reflecting on the quantity of images that we see every day, she ponders on the perception of the world we have and our ability to read the world we live in, “Painting is about the trace of the human touch. It is about the skin of a surface. A painting is not a postcard.”[2]

Because of the innovative impact of her works, her art has seen a rise in interest among collectors in the last few years, as you can see by looking at fig. 3.

Fig. 3 – Marlene Dumas’ auction turnover from 2000 to 2022 (©

Marlene Dumas’ ongoing exhibition has opened on March 27th and will go on until August 1st – be sure to stop by if you are in the area!

[1] Marlene Dumas, Sweet Nothings. Notes and Texts, first edition Galerie Paul Andriesse and De Balie Publishers Amsterdam, 1998; and second edition (revised and expanded) Koenig Books London, 2014.

[2] Ibid.


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