Wall Eyed


Left: Helena Dumas, artist Marlene Dumas, and dealer David Zwirner. Right: Serralves director João Fernandes with dealer Jane Hamlyn. (All photos: Lauren O’Neill-Butler)

LAST FRIDAY, Marlene Dumas took a long break from putting the final touches on her solo exhibition at the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in the idyllic coastal city of Porto, Portugal. The reason? The Netherlands-Brazil match hosted by South Africa––World Cup always trumps art (at least outside the States). As the artist headed to her hotel, a massive crowd gathered at the Câmara Municipal, a government building downtown, to watch the game on a giant screen. Dumas’s current home team prevailed in her old home country, 2-1. “I must tell you that I was supporting Brazil,” Serralves director João Fernandes confessed to guests at Duras’s opening that evening. “But since the Netherlands won”—boisterous cheers from Dumas and Dutch comrades—“I knew it would be a good omen for the show.”

Not that it needed any extra blessings. The Serralves is one of the most alluring, if exhausting, places to view art. Everything looks good in it (and everything outside looks pretty good too). The museum was designed by architect Álvaro Siza Vieira in the 1990s and it stands on nearly eight acres of finely manicured grounds. It took me about two hours to navigate the area, passing through woods, an arboretum, and the Art Deco Serralves Villa, while also observing excellent outdoor works by Dan Graham, Fernanda Gomes, and Maria Nordman. Once inside, I realized I’d need a little more time with the videos in Dara Birnbaum’s retrospective, also on view. “To see it all, you’d need about four days straight,” said adjunct curator Ricardo Nicolau. “And it’s closing tomorrow.”

My whirlwind day tour left just a few hours before the 8 PM dinner and 10 PM public vernissage. The Serralves is onto something with this schedule. It works well for a few reasons: You don’t have to talk about the show, and there are no hangers-on. I joined a table with MUSAC’s María Inés Rodríguez and Ane Rodríguez Armendariz, as well as artist Bethan Huws, who had a show at the Serravales last year. Dumas dined with her dealers and the museum’s board, but shortly after dessert she encouraged everyone to skip coffee and head to the gallery.

Left: Dealer Paul Andriesse (left). Right: Ulrich Looch, Marlene Dumas, and Helena Dumas at Piscina de Marés.

Contra o Muro” (Against the Wall) surveys the past decade of her work. Curator Ulrich Loock included the seven large-scale paintings from Dumas’s March outing at David Zwirner in New York, a show that marked a shift in her oeuvre from depictions of the body to an interest in architecture, namely the wall separating the Palestinian Territories from Israel. A close friend of Dumas’s from South Africa shared his feelings at the opening: “It’s not really about one wall but many: Berlin, apartheid, and so on,” later adding that it’s also “deeply metaphoric. Marlene is brave enough to deal with all the walls one has to put up with in life.”

Dealer Paul Andriesse was taking a closer look at the canvases, and suggested that Dumas “is probably one of the last painter’s painters.” It felt right in the moment, anyway, surrounded as we were by her series of crying women, works she made after her mother passed away in 2007. Thin splotches of red paint trickle down a woman’s face in the brilliant Hiroshima Mon Amour. “That one is so desirable and yet fleeting,” observed the artist, who is about to take another break––a well-deserved reprieve after three back-to-back shows this year. Then, in the blink of an eye, Dumas took off again with daughter Helena in tow. As she left, you could hear her warmly laughing and greeting everyone in the balmy courtyard, “Olá! Hello! Bonjour!” And so we replied: Boa viagem, Marlene Dumas, wherever you are going.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler