Fri, 14th Feb 2020 20:00

Aspire X PIASA | Modern & Contemporary African Art

Lot 22
Lot 22 - Marlene Dumas (South Africa 1953-)


Marlene Dumas (South Africa 1953-)
Oktober 1973

oil and water-based paint on canvas

Artwork date: 1973
Signature details: inscribed with the title top right

Sold for R7,055,600
Estimated at R3,000,000 - R5,000,000


oil and water-based paint on canvas

Artwork date: 1973
Signature details: inscribed with the title top right


183 x 121 cm


Oktober 1973 is only the third unique Marlene Dumas work ever to be sold at auction locally[i] by this South African-born artist who is widely regarded as one of the most influential painters working today. Produced in Dumas’ second year at the Michaelis School of Fine Art during a time of local and global student uprisings seeking political and sexual liberation, this remarkable painting fearlessly addresses many of the issues of its time. Its painterly exuberance echoes that of the Abstract Expressionists whose works were admired by her professors like Kevin Atkinson. The subject—erotic passion—prefigures later works such as those in her recent exhibition Myths and Mortals. Approaching the loaded subject of ‘the nude’, Dumas offers us a refreshingly candid painting of a naked woman in the throes of erotic pleasure. In locating the pristinely smooth pink body—delicious in its contrast to the astonishingly vivid green pudenda with its alizarin crimson genitalia—within a field of pulsating reds, the artist evokes the extraordinary nature of female sexual pleasure and its unique capacity for multi-orgasmic experience, as posited by French psychoanalytic feminists, Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray. It is an entirely sensual experience achieved by Dumas through her interest both in the human figure and in the processes of translating experience and emotion into material form. As Claire Messud says of comparable recent paintings: “For the viewer, each experience of these works will similarly entail a particular combination of our own autobiography and political and cultural history, along with perhaps the mood or moment in which we stand before the painting. Part of Dumas’s genius is always already to have understood this fact, and to approach her artistic process with this knowledge. Whatever the words one uses to articulate the result – “openness,” “multiplicity,” or “jouissance”– the effect is the same: these are paintings that encourage each viewer to push further into the specificity of their encounter.” In 2005 Dumas held the distinction of achieving the highest price ever at auction for a female artist when her painting of 1987, entitled The Teacher (sub a), sold at Christie’s London for GBP1.8 million ($3.3 million) – more than ZAR34 million. The current auction high was set when The Visitor (1995) sold in 2008 for GBP3,177,250 (over $6.3 million) – more than ZAR60 million.

Emma Bedford


[i] Love Lost, 122 x 91 cm, sold for R7,283,200 (Aspire Art Auctions, 3/3/2019) and Pre-Language Pretence, 26 x 16 cm, sold for R113,680 (Stephan Welz & Co, 18/10/2004).

[ii] Marlene Dumas: Myths & Mortals at David Zwirner, New York, from 28 April to 30 June 2018.

[iii] Claire Messud in Marlene Dumas: Myths & Mortals, David Zwirner, New York, 2018, p.117.

[iv] Ibid, p.117.


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Auction: Aspire X PIASA | Modern & Contemporary African Art, Fri, 14th Feb 2020

Aspire Art Auctions partnered with Paris-based house Piasa, to introduce an Africa-focused auction presenting some of the best examples of modern and contemporary art produced on this continent. This was the first time an African and European auction house partnered to present a sale of African art, in Africa, for a global audience. 

The sale included 139 artists representing 27 countries from Africa and the diaspora and spotlighted key collecting segments from 20th century modernism to contemporary production and photography. The lead-lot, Marlene Dumas’ Oktober 1973 achieved a stellar R7,055,600 well above its high estimate of R3-5 million. Also on offer were some of the most in-demand African artists including Chéri Samba, Aboudia Abdoulaye Diarrassouba, Gareth Nyandoro, Mustafa Maluka and William Kentridge.

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