A sketchbook lies at his bedside, so he can record his dreams as soon as he wakes up, still half-asleep. Its contents form the point of departure for the fantastical works of Marcel Dzama (b. Canada, 1974). New York-based Dzama is a multifaceted artist who conjures up an out-of-this-world imaginative universe in innocent-looking images addressing the most gruesome subjects. Although he has exhibited widely in North America and Europe over recent years, this solo show at the GEM, museum of contemporary art is the first ever presentation of his dioramas, drawings, sculptures and paintings to be held in the Netherlands. Dzama’s works feature in major museum collections across the world, such as the MoMa in New York and the Tate in London.
Marcel Dzama is renowned for his narrative drawings, populated by bats, marching bears, ghosts, soldiers and – for example – half-tree, half-human hybrids. His distinctive palette is confined mainly to natural colours: shades of khaki and ochre red, plus his trademark earth brown, homemade from root beer. The drawings feature empty backgrounds and faintly nostalgic figures, appearing to float in space.
From the family farm to Dante
As well as frequently using images inspired by his own dreams (an aspect which seems to link his work to Surrealism), Dzama’s work makes regular reference to nature, wild animals and the family farm he remembers from his childhood. But he also employs a range of other favourite references: icons from the world of art history and literature, such as Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, James Joyce and Dante.
His dioramas are spectacular: three-dimensional model scenes that appear to have emerged straight out of some grotesque David Lynch film. They are inspired partly by the shrines he encountered during a trip to Mexico and partly by his admiration for the boxes made and collected by American artist Joseph Cornell (1903 – 1972). The folkloric aspect of Dzama’s work is illustrated by his decision to work closely with Mexican workshops on the production of his ceramic figures.
The dioramas unite all the hallmarks of Dzama’s previous work – comical and nightmarish landscapes, nostalgic early twentieth-century motifs, and bats – on a more impressive scale. This exhibition will include the largest to date, On the banks of the red river (2008), which is based on his drawing You Gotta Make Room for the New Ones. It shows ‘riflemen’ shooting down the characters Dzama has decided not to draw any more – his way of imposing limits on his own imagination and making room for new figures.
Premiere of ‘A Game of Chess’
Marcel Dzama also creates films and videos featuring the absurd worlds of his imagination. He has illustrated music videos by famed musicians such as Bob Dylan and Department of Eagles. His latest film, A Game of Chess, will have its European premiere at the GEM.