Death as Model

Back to a dark source of inspiration. And this brings us to sentiments such as pain and sorrow, which now – in our own time – are bound up with kitsch. I’m interested in artists who take death as a model. So often Andy Warhol is only seen in relation to money. But for me, he’s one of the few artists whose art addresses death and the sentiments of our time without succumbing to sugary or over-dramatic imagery; a good synthesis between realism and artificiality.

I like art that wrestles with the eternally unequal relation between its sources of life and its artificial nature. Art, which draws on corporality, while always acknowledging that, in the final analysis, it remains unnatural.

Why is there so little that moves you? Because we want to ignore evil and deny the body. Being touched has not so much to do with succeeding. The problem with contemporary art is that it’s far too self-conscious. To my mind, when art is too well-orchestrated, when it knows only too well how to manipulate its public and knows exactly what the public wants, then inevitably emotion is absent because, in my opinion, art that moves you has something ungainly about it, is in some way bound up with a combination of hesitation and something going wrong. If art is too shielded and protected we end by smothering it to death. Mishima: ‘If art is not constantly threatened and stimulated by things outside its domain, it exhausts itself.’ He said that everyday on getting up you must practise dying and imagine all kinds of ways in which you might die. But you must make sure that you’ve got your make- up at hand, because you must look good on the day of your death.


Death as Model. Originally published as De uitputting van de muze, W139, Amsterdam, 1990, p.16-25 [consisting of fragments from De muze is uitgeput, a lecture by Marlene Dumas given on 16 October 1990 in W139, Amsterdam]; and included in Marlene Dumas, Sweet Nothings. Notes and Texts, first edition Galerie Paul Andriesse and De Balie Publishers Amsterdam, 1998; and second edition (revised and expanded) Koenig Books London, 2014 [under 1991 instead of 1990].