ART STUFF on a train # 111: ‘Book the Show vs. Show the Book’

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Marlene Dumas: ‘Snow White and the Broken Arm’, 1988

The thing about paintings is to see them, right? It’s a bit odd, then, to suggest that the book of Marlene Dumas at the Tate is better than the show, but apart from the show having just closed so removing the choice (‘The Image as Burden’ to 10 May) there was already a case to be made. First, the book is excellent: it mixes Dumas’s own often engaging thoughts with her selections from commentaries about her work, all ideally organised alongside the relevant illustrations. Second, Dumas’s style of successive ultra-thin washes doesn’t tend to lead to much surface effect: she loses less than some painters do in reproduction. Third, although one could hardly say that the Tate show is too small, many of the best paintings in the catalogue weren’t in London – you had to see the show in Amsterdam or wait until Basel in order to be able to compare the grid of heads of Models with those of Rejects, or to see Snow White and The Broken Arm 1988 Leather Boots, 2000, The Kiss, 2003 and the quadriptych of adult sized babies The First People, 1990, ie some of Dumas’s strongest works. London viewers did, on the other hand, get the sequence of Great Men, both versions of films spectre and the combination of Naomi Campbell with Princess Di – all among the least convincing productions of a fascinating but uneven artist. Maybe it was all a cunning plot to boost sales of the book…

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Marlene Dumas: ‘Models’, 1994

Most days art critic Paul Carey-Kent spends hours on the train, traveling between his home in Southampton and his day job in London. Could he, we asked, jot down whatever came into his head?

About Paul Carey-Kent

Art critic and curator, based near Southampton. I write most regularly for Art Monthly, Frieze, Elephant, State, Photomonitor... and, of course, FAD.