Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Little escap(ad)e

We live east of Munich, out in the countryside, where there isn’t really much going on. Although Munich is only approx. 55 miles to the west, we might as well be living on another planet, gathered from the frequency with which we get to go there. So on Monday this week I took additional use of a train ticket that would have taken me through Munich anyway, left a few hours earlier than necessary in order to get to my intended destination, and spent those hours in Munich indulging.

Already the train ride was great. I love looking at the landscape zooming by, even tough I have seen this particular scenery many times already. I got to see a whole flock of white herons standing in a meadow. I got to see many wonderful trees in their winter skeletons, some of which would certainly make beautiful objects for a Daily Art project. The tunnels and underpasses on the way to Munich are decorated with lots of colorful graffitis. And what I liked most: seeing the effect of the warmth of the sun. In certain spots the shadows of trees had prevented that the frosted grass had thawed up, but the shadow itself had already travelled on a little, so you could see exactly where the white frost would thaw next.

Of course it being Monday, the typical day for closed museums, I didn’t have much of a choice where to go – couldn’t go to the Exhibition by J. Albers in the Pinakothek der Moderne which I definitely still want to see. But the Haus der Kunst was open, where I had seen Ai Wei Wei’s exhibition „so sorry!“ almost exactly one year ago. Although they had ‚only’ one exhibition open right now I decided to go for it: Marlene Dumas (English information on her here, German information on her here).

Marlene Dumas is of South-African origin, but now lives in the Netherlands. You can find pictures of her and her works here The exhibit is called „Tronies – Marlene Dumas and the Old Masters“. Tronies were sketches of people/people's heads first used for exercise, which then turned into an art form with the Old Dutch Masters. The show juxtaposes Dumas's portraits with a number of tronies.

If you know about M. Dumas, you probably know the painting used for the large banner on the building to announce the show, but if you don’t - before you read the caption below, give yourself a second and try to guess: who is depicted in this painting?

Banner at the Haus der Kunst,
based on M. Dumas's painting 'Naomi'

 This picture is not even that large, definitely smaller than you would guess from the size of the banner. In the exhibition I overheard a tour guide telling her group that the painting was part of Dumas’ dealing with the effects of the fashion world. Naomi Campbell , who has been a steady presence in the fashion world for many years now is shown as an icon, which has a lot of the characteristics of an African mask, and although you can see her pride and feel the strength of her personality when looking at the eyes in the painting, one can also see that she is at the same time one of the supermodel stars and a living victim of that fashion world.

Dumas works her portraits from photos or magazine pictures, not from a live model. I’m not sure whether she used a pciture of a Barbie for this portrait of Barbie, too.

Barbie, by Marlen Dumas

A few pictures were shown from a series of ‚rejects’ in which Dumas had overlaid pictures that she had rejected onto others, tearing parts – mostly the eyes – out of the pictures in the top layer so that the one below showed through and became an integral part of the entire combination. Very interesting effects! It reminded me of some of my techniques used in quilting. If something doesn’t turn out right on the first try, don’t throw it out yet, you may use it in connection with another piece. Always a possibility to cut something off and combine it with something else!

My most favorite portrait in the entire exhibition was that of her then three- or four-year-old daughter Helena with a look on her face that only children at that age can have – a forceful mixture of critical observance, strong-willed anger and defiance. I did not sneak a picture of this portrait, but unfortunately they did not have it on postcard in the shop, and I couldn’t find it on the internet either. However, I did sneak two pictures of a series of ‚collaborations’ by Dumas and her then six-year-old daughter, who had overpainted or ‚corrected’ rejects by her mother.

What I like about these are the contrasts in style, and the surprise effects that develop from that. Of course, it is clear which part of the pictures was done by the child and which is by the adult, but if you look closely at the top left picture in the lower photograph, where the red paint overpaints the orginial, you can see a technique that Dumas herself used in her painting of Sigmund Freud’s wife, which is also shown in the exhibition.

After a stopover in the museum bookstore, which is so fabulously well-assorted that it is a very dangerous and potentially rather expensive place to go, and lunch at the museum restaurant I had enough time to take a little stroll outside. Munich was basking in what almost seemed like a spring-day-sun.

Three surfers at the Eiskanal were making use of the surfwave in the middle of the city.

The boule players in the Hofgarten were out.

And, as is typical for Munich as soon as the temperatures rise over freezing point, people were sitting outside in the biergarten.

Munich does have a flair of its own. And I think I will try to do this kind of escap(ad)e more often – perhaps every four to six weeks? 

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