November 5, 1949
New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.
Carroll Dunham (born November 5, 1949) is an American painter and father of American actress Lena Dunham. Working since the late 1970s, Dunham's career reached critical renown in the 1980s when he first exhibited with Baskerville + Watson, a decade during which many artists returned to painting. He is known for his conceptual approach to painting and drawing and his interest in exploring the relationship between abstraction and figuration.
Of his body of work, Johanna Burton writes, "Dunham's career can be characterized by its rigorous indefinability, as his works dip freely into the realms of abstraction, figuration, surrealism, graffiti, pop, even cartoons, without ever settling loyally into any one of them."  David Pagel, in a Los Angeles Times review intended to be complimentary, described his paintings as "vulgar beyond belief..."
Between 1981 and 1987, Dunham worked directly on wood veneer, employing multiple types of plywood and various, ever more exotic veneers, including elm, oak, pine, and rosewood. Often responding to the natural grains of the wood, Dunham created vibrant compositions that frequently combine geometric and organic, anthropomorphic forms. In discussing this body of work, Ken Johnson writes, "What these paintings add up to is a kind of delirious, barely contained psychic pluralism. Various dualities and contradictions play out: between wood and pain; abstraction and representation; geometry and biology; the phallic and the vaginal; body and mind; nature and culture."
Towards the late 1980s, Dunham began to work with more singular motifs. Among the recurring figures in his work are wave-like forms, hatted male figures in a variety of settings, trees set in pastoral landscapes, and nude female bathers. Kate Linker writes,
These motifs have provided an armature for a continuous and seemingly self-generating practice in which paintings appear to evolve and differentiate from earlier versions of themselves. Imagery is generated through subject matter yet abstractly, in a series of variations that incrementally expand on and work through a theme.
Dunham has said of his use of various subjects in his practice, "… all these subjects are really just things that let you make paintings." Further to this point, Linker notes, "the figure is deployed as an iconic tool around which a space is built in accordance with the demands of the flat rectilinearity of the picture plane."
Exhibitions and collections
Dunham has been the subject of numerous one-person exhibitions, including a mid-career retrospective at the New Museum in New York and an exhibition of paintings and sculptures at Millesgården in Stockholm. His work has been included in several Whitney Biennials and in "Disparaties and Deformations: Our Grotesque," SITE Santa Fe's fifth biennial curated by Robert Storr. He has participated in exhibitions at major institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.
His work is included in a number of public collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Tate Gallery, London; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Whitney Museum of Art, New York.
Definition of painting
In a joint-talk given at MoMA with the painter Chuck Close, Carroll Dunham provided the following definition of painting, managing to summarize a fairly sweeping range of issues related to the discipline in the space of two consecutive compound sentences:
Painting is a relatively recently manifestation of humanity's ancient effort to understand and exploit pictorial space generally understood to consist of sheets of colored paste spread manually across primarily rectilinear planar supports embodying illusionistic or quasi-narrative properties although each of the previous characteristics have been challenged and contradicted to great theoretical and expressive effect without the loss of basic categorical integrity testimony to paintings nature as both bounded and infinite and its ability to absorb apparently conflicting attitudes on the part of its creators.
Painting operates at the nexus of intersubjective experience and consensual reality relying on both for its subject matter while remaining stubbornly self-referential, and its content extends into the areas we call psychological social, material (in both the philosophical and economic senses of the word) and—for the lack of a better term—spiritual giving it unusual utility as a tool for studying the evolution of the self of socio-cultural systems and of the complex reciprocities between the two, strikingly manifest within the apparent disconnect within paintings dual nature as a repository of capital and a facilitator of profound contemplation, a perfect storm of the crass, the sacred and the intimately personal.
Works and publications
- Carroll Dunham: Bathers Trees. New York: Gladstone Gallery, 2013 ISBN 978-3863353964
- Carroll Dunham: A Drawing Survey. Los Angeles: Blum & Poe, 2012 ISBN 978-0966350333
- Kemmerer, Allison N., Elizabeth C DeRose, and Carroll Dunham. Carroll Dunham Prints: Catalogue Raisonné, 1984–2006. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.
- Carroll Dunham: Painting and Sculpture 2004–2008. Zurich: JRP|Ringier, 2008 ISBN 978-3905829884
- Carroll Dunham: Paintings on Wood 1982–1987. New York: Skarstedt Gallery, 2008 ISBN 978-8890205934
- Friedrich, Julia. Carroll Dunham: Arbeiten auf Papier. Cologne: Strzelecki Books, 2008.
- Carroll Dunham: Dead, Yellow, Mule. Garbage, Ratio. Giant. New York: Gladstone Gallery, 2007.
- X#*@(ING) INDEX! Who is pointing at who – and why – in Carroll Dunham's Drawings. London: Koenig Books, 2006.
- Carroll Dunham: Line That Never Ends: Drawings 1984–2004. Zürich: Edition & Verlag Judin, 2005.
- Carroll Dunham: Paintings. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 2002.
- Morgan Falconer, About this artist: Carroll Dunham, The Museum of Modern Art.
- Johanna Burton, Exhibition: "Carroll Dunham Paintings", The New Museum.
- David Pagel, Art review: Carroll Dunham at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2010.
- "CARROLL DUNHAM". Gary Tatintsian Gallery. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
- Klaus Kertess, "Line That Never Ends," in Carroll Dunham, Line That Never Ends: Drawings 1984-2004 (Zurich: Edition & Verlag, 2005).
- Carroll Dunham: Paintings on Wood 1982–1987 (New York and Trieste: Skarstedt Gallery and Navado Press, 2008), p. 7
- Kate Linker, "On the Image in the Mind's Eye: Recent Paintings and Sculptures by Carroll Dunham," in Carroll Dunham: Painting and Sculpture 2004–2008 (Zurich: JRP|Ringier, 2008), p. 10.
- Ken Johnson, "Suggestive Forms That Come Out of the Plywoodwork", The New York Times, March 25, 2008.
- Kate Linker, "On the Image in the Mind's Eye: Recent Paintings and Sculptures by Carroll Dunham," in Carroll Dunham: Painting and Sculpture 2004–2008 (Zurich: JRP|Ringier, 2008), p. 9.
- Joe Bradley, "Carroll Dunham," The Journal, Entry 31, 2011, p. 143
- Gladstone Gallery
- Blum & Poe
- Dunham, Carroll (August 8, 2007). "Painting Process/Process Painting: A Talk With Carroll Dunham & Chuck Close". MoMA. The Museum of Modern Art.
- Dunham, Carroll (11 September 2007). "Painting Process/Process Painting: Carroll Dunham and Chuck Close Speak At the Moma". MoMA. The Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 1 January 2016.
- Jennifer Stockman, "Carroll Dunham", Gotham Magazine.