Gina took me to see the Marlene Dumas exhibition at Tate Modern yesterday. After a coffee at Borough market, we strolled along the South Bank in the sunshine, turning left at the birch trees and buskers and heading into the massive building.
I have always been disappointed by the exhibitions at Tate Britain, apart from the enormous installations in the turbine hall (especially those by Anish Kapoor and Rachel Whiteread). Even Hopper managed to look less than himself, somehow. I hadn't raised my hopes too high.
Perhaps it was the disappointment of Allen Jones's lousy show, but the Dumas paintings are brilliant. She is an absolute genius with colour, and at first glance some of her paintings look like a quick, exuberant splash that by chance capture unusual likenesses and liveliness in the faces (they are all portraits). But when you move closer, you can see just how careful she has been with the paint. There are layers, and little areas of experimentation or chance that have worked. The eyes have it: every portrait's eyes are full of the life force, and that's a theme that follows through all her work. She appears to be a deeply compassionate person. In one room, a portrait of her grandmother is hung slightly higher than the others. She imagines that her grandmother, had she been a man, would have been a physical representation of God. She paints black people, white people, and if she can't capture the moment the first time, she tries again. She does not shy away from politics, and she embraces humour. A 'school photograph' shows the rows of children with indistinct facial features, for they are only young. Their teacher's face has crystallised out, however, and wears an expression of slightly smug control. She paints her daughter as child, wearing a pair of painty hands that appear to weigh down her arms; she paints herself crying, one eye higher than the other, because your face feels all over the place when you cry. She sees nobility in the human face and the weight of the world in the human body; she sees the importance and symbolism of shadows that are sometimes huger than the person that they belong to.
This is a truly brilliant exhibition, and you must go if you have not been already.
Later, I went to Housman's Political Bookshop in King's Cross. Katy Carr's friend Vit Hopley has just written a book of stories called Wednesday afternoon, and Katy was one of three women asked to give a response to the book, and then friends of the respondee were supposed to respond to that.
Housmans has a fabulous squeaky door that punctuated the evening mellifluously throughout, adding to the agitprop vibe that was a welcome change from the sounds of the sirens and commuters' marching feet that percolated through from the outside world into the shop from time to time. We were told at the start about the Greenpeace infiltrators that had taken up residence a few years ago, and who were the most efficient of the organisation's volunteers, of course, as they worked on the mail-outs and simultaneously farmed all the addresses before they were outed.
This was one of several odd facts that materialised during the evening. The respondee to the response that included a cast bronze of a dead wren that had flown into a window being passed around the audience, talked about tinnitus, and speculated on a theory that the sounds were created by the brain to replace frequencies lost due to the onset of deafness. No hope for me then- I've got three different sounds minimum going on all the time- a roar, a ring and a squeal.
'Birds are, in fact, dinosaurs!', declared someone.
I looked at the rows of books on the shelves and resolved to come back and browse when I've got money in my pocket.
Katy's response was to sing some songs and teach us some Polish words; she also read out the poem on the back of her CD Paszport, which was a wry observation that the very fact of belongingness bestowed by being a passport-holder is simultaneously an exercise of control by the authorities over a country's citizens.
I am delighted that Katy will be performing at the next Club Artyfartle in April: other performers to be announced very soon!
So much to think about today; I left them to the beer and went home for a cup of tea.