Marcel Dzama - Selected Press | David Zwirner

Marcel Dzama

- Selected Press

Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon are a match made in art heaven. So it seems pretty unbelievable that it took until 2015 for the two friends to pick up pen and pencil and collaborate with one another. The result of their pairing was shown at David Zwirner gallery in New York (under the title Forgetting the Hand) and in the London gallery (this time, entitled Let Us Compare Mythologies) the following year. In the two shows, their inky marks were scrawled across pages and pages of paper, spilling from the confines of these onto the surrounding walls. The collaboration was also featured in Elephant issue 29.

“We’ve been friends for over ten years,” Dzama told Elephant in 2016, “and it was a nice reason to get together. I have loved Raymond’s work since the late 1980s; he was one of the first contemporary artists I knew about. He opened the art world to drawing; it wasn’t really widely accepted before him. It was so exciting to mix our two worlds together and see how they would interact. We have similar backgrounds and our kids are the same age, and many of our early influences are the same as well, so it was very easy for us to communicate without even saying a word.”

As with any work from these two, the fun here lies in exploring the various words and objects that are woven throughout. An enormous turquoise Cheshire Cat face grinned down from the wall in an upstairs room at the London show. At one point, Spike Jonze’s small dog appeared, drawn by the pair after a visit to their studio. A spikey-toothed bat, adorned with blue-wave-covered wings flapped over the stairs. The sprawling work is intense, trippy, funny and loaded in a way that is truly characteristic of these two. One of the most exciting aspects of the collaboration is the blending of the two artists’ distinct styles, as the line between them becomes unclear. In working together they would borrow each other’s characters and quirks (hence the multitude of wave covered bats, bringing together Dzama’s love of the fang-toothed nocturnal creature with Pettibon’s custom lashings of blue pen).

“We didn’t want it to be obvious what Raymond did or what I did,” Dzama told us. “He would draw a bat or I would draw a wave. It was very interesting to learn the techniques and about different mediums. It was also a nice way to release our egos and make the work almost become authorless.” 

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Painter, draughtsman, and filmmaker Marcel Dzama creates ink and watercolor drawings of fantastical characters enacting bizarre, surreal scenarios. Beyond the confines of the art world, his work has appeared on album covers for bands such as Beck and They Might Be Giants; and in 2016 he designed both a set and costumes for the New York City Ballet in collaboration with choreographer Justin Peck and composer Bryce Dessner of the National.

Dzama admits a personal aversion to technology's rapid advance in our lives and embraces tradition, creating intimate works on paper inspired by the work of William Blake and Francisco de Goya, among others. Inside his whimsical Brooklyn studio, he describes the tension that can arise between artists who embrace or reject new technologies in their work, the continued relevance of traditional media, and a desire for humanity to slow down in an age when information comes at us with ever-quickening pace.

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"Be what you want to be," Marcel Dzama says of the theme of The Mask Makers, the booth he's curating for David Zwirner at Independent Brussels. "The mask is freedom, anonymity, a new identity or gender, and bridging us to the afterlife." The exhibition is rooted in Dzama's own fascination with masks, which have appeared in his work since the mid-1990s. Even as a child, Dzama was drawn to them, particularly the wooden Inuit masks at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and a Greek theater mask that his grandmother gave him when he was eight. "Since then," he says, "I've always taken note and enjoyed it when I saw other artists doing masks."

One such work that Dzama paid particular attention to was Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889, a complex oil painting by James Ensor of clownish clergymen and carnival goers that hangs at the Getty. The Mask Makers is a nod to the Belgian painter, and the booth will include some of his prints. There will also be contributions from Zwirner artists Mamma Andersson, R. Crumb, Sherrie Levine, Jockum Nordström, Raymond Pettibon, Jordan Wolfson, and Lisa Yuskavage, as well as works by David Altmejd, Peter Doig, James Ensor, Marilyn Minter and Cindy Sherman, among others. Dzama will also share several of his own works, including "The cast and crew of the revolutions"–a graphite drawing of costumes he designed for the New York City Ballet–which will be employed as wallpaper to create a contextual environment in the booth. Here, Dzama discusses some of the pieces in The Mask Makers, and opens up about his ongoing fascination with the disguises.

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Five-masked woman, armed with longbows and submachine guns are posing en garde above the words: The Revolution Will Be Female. I am visiting 42-year-old artist Marcel Dzama at his Brooklyn studio which—though brimming with eye-catching curios—is organized enough for this poster-sized drawing to lay flat in the center of the room. "It's something I was working on for International Women's Day," he says, adding that he had made another version as a sign for the Women's March on Washington. I later discover on his Instagram a handful of such posters he'd drawn up for protest marches.

Dzama, pacific in character and gentle in speech, has seen the playful macabray of his illustrated characters and creatures—including goat-head dictators, dancing tree people, and sinister-looking masquerades—emerge from the art world and into pop culture in music videos, cinematic films, large staged-productions, and magazine covers. With his fame, Dzama has leveraged support toward various initiatives such as the children's non-profit 826NYC and the American Civil Liberties Union. At a time when the arts and education have come under unprecedented threat, sloganeering seems a natural output for the artist’s creativity. 

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One might think, after viewing the new Raymond Pettibon / Marcel Dzama show at David Zwirner, that the two men have known each other forever. Forgetting the Hand (open through February 20) features a series of drawings on which the men collaborated. In accordance with the title, the viewer easily forgets that two different hands made these marks. Despite the unique aesthetics of both men, they've mirrored each other's styles and worked together so seamlessly that it would be easy to think that just one artist created the entire group.

At one time, though, Dzama was just a young Pettibon fan, admiring the artist from afar and waiting for his own big break.

"He was the first contemporary artist that I probably knew of because of the bands I liked as a teenager, like Sonic Youth," says Dzama. "The first CD I ever bought was Goo [for which Pettibon designed the cover]." 

Dzama also tells a story about how he may partially owe his own Zwirner representation to Pettibon. "I don't know if this is true or not," he says, "but when I had my first show in LA at Richard Heller Gallery, David Zwirner was buying Raymond Pettibon drawings from him and saw my work. He wouldn't have been there otherwise. Raymond really opened the door for drawing in contemporary art. I don't know if there would have been room for me before that."

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When i-D first interviewed Marcel Dzama—the Canadian-born, Brooklyn based artist who counts Arcade Fire as collaborators—he was boogieing around David Zwirner's New York gallery in preparation for his Dadaist disco show, Une Danse des Bouffons. About a year later, Dzama again laced up his dancing shoes at the NY Art Book Fair, where he hosted a mini marathon of choreography from his video Death Disco Dance. Now, we're happy to announce Dzama's most ambitious dance related-project yet: a commission for the New York City Ballet's fourth annual Art Series.

Since 2013, the NYCB Art Series has brought original collaborations with contemporary art's brightest stars to the public during NYCB performances at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center (you might remember Dustin Yellin's 3,000 pound glass sculptures from last year). Dzama's multidisciplinary installation will continue themes explored in Une Danse des Bouffons: a different Marcel (Duchamp)'s chess obsession. Just like Dzama's Jester's Dance, the NYCB installation will feature video, drawings, and sculpture.

But Dzama's commission also marks the first time in NCYB's history that an artist has simultaneously created work for both the Art Series and a production. In addition to creating the Promenade installation, Dzama designed the sets and costumes for NYCB Resident Choreographer Justin Peck's winter season world premiere ballet, The Most Incredible Thing, which is based on a Hans Christian Anderson story.

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Among the artist-made books (as opposed to the books about artists) at the New York Art Book Fair, which opened last night at MoMA PS1 to a hustling, bustling VIP crowd, is a zinelike collaboration between Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon. Both are artists with David Zwirner, whose new publishing house put the two artists together on the project. "They like each other but had never worked together," says Lucas Zwirner, who works with his family's bookmaking operation. First Pettibon gave Dzama some of his unfinished drawings, which Dzama collaged, and then, a week later, Dzama brought some of his to Pettibon, which Pettibon added some of his gnomic text to. "They swapped and then reswapped," says Lucas. "They wanted to augment each other's work." It comes in an edition of 300, none of which are signed, which is why they're only $30. The tone is a bit anxious and perverse. As for what it means, well, some of Dzama's drawings—and he's always drawing — are on Chateau Marmont letterhead. But only since he was in L.A. during part of the collaboration, so the only meaning there is that some artists sometimes get to live like they're in the movie business. But the zine's repeated phrase is: "The appeal to the reader is that of a folk or fairy tale well told." To which, in one corner, Pettibon's wan all-caps scrawl is added: "This story, if it is one, deserves the closure of a suicide."

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The Canadian-born artist Marcel Dzama is known for his Dadaist multidisciplinary work—drawings, puppets, dioramas—and his collaborations on standout music videos. He was an art director on "The Suburbs," the inventive Arcade Fire short film, and co-directed the spooky "No One Does It Like You" for Department of Eagles.

His latest art piece, "Une danse des bouffons" ("a jester's dance"), is a 35-minute black-and-white silent film inspired by an ill-fated love affair between Marcel Duchamp and the Brazilian sculptor Maria Martins. (She stayed with her husband, and he responded with the tableau "Étant donnés," his last major artwork.) A surreal, creepy, funny allegory, the film is stuffed with cultural references, including Nigerian mythology, Francis Picabia's painting "Adoration of the Calf" and Busby Berkeley musicals. It stars Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth fame (and an artist in her own right) as Martins, sporting a terrific black bob wig and costumes by Christian Joy, the designer for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs front woman Karen O. (The Belgian model Hannelore Knuts plays another version of Martins.) The otherworldly soundtrack, composed by members of Arcade Fire, will be available on 7-inch vinyl.

Shot over three days in a Brooklyn studio, the work was commissioned for the Toronto Film Festival in 2013, where it was intended as an homage to the filmmaker David Cronenberg. "I thought if I was paying homage to Cronenberg, I would pay homage to Duchamp and Picabia and Joseph Beuys, as many people as I could have—all my heroes," said Dzama, who is now based in Brooklyn and whose work is sought after by institutions like MoMA and the Tate Gallery and collectors such as Brad Pitt and François Pinault.

The film will have its U.S. premiere on Tuesday at David Zwirner in Chelsea. In a joint phone conversation last week, the collaborators Dzama, Gordon and Tim Kingsbury of Arcade Fire discussed the project.

Q. Marcel, how did you land on Kim for the cast? And Kim, how did you prepare?

A. Dzama: I was really nervous to ask Kim. I was telling Spike Jonze, and he was like, "Why don't you just ask her?" I just assumed it would be too much to ask.

Gordon: I was very flattered to be asked. I pretty much just showed up, jetlagged from being on tour in Europe. It's always nice to have something else to go right into after being on tour, because there's always a big letdown after all this activity. The hardest part was actually after I said yes and then Marcel said, "Oh, also a model is doing a part as well, who's young and beautiful." That was slightly intimidating.

Dzama: Don't tell Hannelore this, but I didn't think I would be able to get you for a long enough time. I thought I could have Hannelore as backup.

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Marcel Dzama's work to date has been heavily defined by a prolific series of figural drawings produced in graphite, pen and ink, watercolor, and root beer wash. Equal parts macabre and mischievous, these illustrations have created a host of oneiric characters. In this world, guerilla ballerinas can be found both shooting and suckling orgiastic mystery cults, on the same page as anthropomorphic animals and Bauhaus puppets arranged in ceremonial chaos. Bradley Bailey describes one of Dzama's drawings in the monograph Marcel Dzama: Sower of Dischord as "a grandiose scene of majesty and spectacle, as if the Revelation of John were directed by Busby Berkeley." While the artist has been working in film for years, it has only been in the past decade that these personalities have jumped from paper to video performance.

In Une Danse des Bouffons (A Jester's Dance), Dzama conceives of a "Dadaist love story" between artists Marcel Duchamp and Maria Martins. Awakened by a trickster from sculptural stasis as Duchamp's Étant donnés, Maria (played by both Kim Gordon and Hannelore Knuts) finds Marcel trapped and tortured by chess. She confronts overgrown puppets and quadruple-eyed judges to rescue her lover with the trickster's assistance (or hindrance). Commissioned by the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013, Une Danse des Bouffons makes its U.S. premiere alongside related two- and three-dimensional work by the artist at David Zwirner Gallery.

Dzama led Interview on a tour of the in-progress installation for his solo exhibition in Chelsea.

RACHEL EGAN: I was first consciously exposed to your work in the form of the exhibition catalog for The Last Winter. I remember it quite vividly—my uncle had given the book to me for Christmas.

DZAMA: Oh—awesome!

EGAN: I'm from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and while the winters are nowhere nearly as harsh as the ones in Canada, it was snowing profusely while I read it. This was around the same time that I saw Guy Maddin's The Saddest Music in the World. On top of that I was a teenage girl, so the net effect gave me a very romanticized view of Winnipeg and its artists. Back then I thought of you as a draftsman, drawing as a really intimate, insular act, but now there is an outpouring of multimedia—ceramics, dioramas, and film.

DZAMA: I was always doing films, but the ceramics didn't come until later. I did take ceramics in university, which gave me an appetite for the medium, but I couldn't figure out what I wanted to do with it yet.

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