Marlene Dumas, Moshekwa, 2006, oil on canvas
While on a quick, freezing-cold trip to New York City over the holidays, we kept running into North Texas connections.
First, it was at the Museum of Modern Art, which I confess I hadn’t visited since its renovation/expansion several years ago (said renovation being something of a disappointment, except in improving the traffic circulation). A short stop on the fifth floor to check out the new cafe inevitably led us, as always, into the museum’s tremendous painting and sculpture galleries — in particular, to the room full of Cezannes, Picassos and Rousseaus. It just happens to be the Mercedes and Sid Bass Gallery. No surprise there, the Fort Worth billionaire is a MOMA trustee; but I hadn’t noticed the name up on the wall before.
Then, we spent a great deal of time in the exhibition of Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave. MOMA’s is the first show (of this scale) of Dumas’ work. She paints powerful, unnerving images of babies, political victims, dead bodies and sex workers — so inevitably, she’s a favorite of my daughter, the art student. Visually, Dumas’ work can seem watery and casual, but it’s anything but in its effects: She does a lot with very little, especially with her portraits’ eyes (her series on blindfolded victims seems a conscious attempt to deny one of her strengths — to see if she can produce the same sobering response without them). Earlier this year, one of Dumas’ paintings set a record at auction for any work by a living female artist ($6.3 million). In the last room in the exhibition, we came across one of those portaits of a blindfolded victim. The information on it? It’s part of the collection of Dallas collector, Howard Rachofsky, eventually to be given to the Dallas Museum of Art, presumably as part of that massive, $215 million bequest to the DMA from the Rachofsky, Hoffmann and Rose families.
Finally, it was dance theater. I’d been stunned by the original, landmark production of Martha Clarke’s Garden of Earthly Delights in 1984, so I was keen to take family and friends to the current revival at the Minetta Lane Theatre (which was recently extended through March 1).
Twenty-four years later, the new version has shifts in emphasis and detail, nothing major; it remains an absolutely spellbinding performance work inspired by the still-strange 16th-century triptych by Hieronymous Bosch that hangs in the Prado. From Bosch’s images of paradise and hell, Clarke has extracted a battle-of-the-sexes theme (among others) with male and female dancers struggling together, beating each other, twirling and making music together, turning into demons, into beasts, into plants, into loving birds, into musical instruments, stomping in peasant harvest dances and flying off into the air. Literally so — just as in Adrian Hall’s productions at the Dallas Theater Center, the flying harnesses and pulleys are fully visible, making the equipment seem even more natural or monstrous, as the case may be.
The dancers in the photo look nude; they’re not, they’re wearing flesh-colored body stockings, but the effect — as when a dancer hangs upside-down, seemingly dead, utterly limp but slowly spinning out over the heads of the audience — the effect is almost as shocking as if they were. Human flesh has rarely seemed so lovely, liquid, pained and violated as it does here.
Clarke clearly caters her vision to the dancers she works with. This time, they include two former Fort Worthians: Todd Anderson, who has appeared on Broadway in A Chorus Line and on tour in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and notably, General McArthur Hambrick. It’s hard to forget anyone with such a name: Hambrick was a long-time actor and dancer on Fort Worth stages. A graduate of TCU, he was a soloist with the Fort Worth Ballet, appeared at Casa Manana and founded-directed the Joyful Noise Choral Ensemble — until he moved to teach musical theater at the University of Wyoming. Amid all that, he’ even managed to record a CD and sing with Della Reese on KERA’s production of With Ossie and Ruby.
But after the performance of Earthly Delights that we attended, he told us he’s moved back to New York (he lived there once before, dancing in shows like Cats). He certainly seems to be finding work once again. Hambrick is the central figure in the photo, trapped inside the trees. Something else to marvel at: His name may be memorable, but so is his 6 foot, one inch physique. Because that photo doesn’t really do Hambrick justice, I’ve added this one. Admittedly, it’s a much earlier shot, but it gives you a better idea of how he still appears, physically.
Incredibly, the man is in his early fifties.
Image of Marlene Dumas painting from the Museum of Modern Art, image of Garden of Earthly Delights by Richard Finkelstein.