Marcel Dzama’s Early 21st-century Surrealism

marcel dzama untitled 2003 surrealist painting caterpillar bat people
Untitled (2003)

You might recognize the work of Marcel Dzama from the covers to popular albums like Beck’s Guero,The Weakerthans’ Reconstruction Site or They Might Be Giants’ The Else. Working across the mediums of paint, diorama, film, and sculpture Mr Dzama’s inspiration comes mostly from the dada/surrealist movements (specifically art-world her/troublemaker Marcel Duchamp), and, in the spirit of those movements he told The Guardian last year,  “I try not to censor myself. I’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s nasty!’ But I’ll go with it.”  The Winnipeg-born artist graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1997 and moved to New York before becoming something of the indie darling of the art scene, whose work has found its way into the collections of major museums like MoMA and the Met in New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the personal collections of celebrities including Nicolas Cage, Brad Pitt and Gus Van Sant.

marcel dzama last winter here ice tree surrealist painting hanged man winnipeg
Last Winter Here (2004)

Last year Harry N Abrams published Marcel Dzama: Sower of Discord, a 288-page volume devoted to the artist’s work which I cannot wait to get my hands on.  I realize that for the faint of heart his work might be seen as ‘nasty’ but Mr Dzama’s depictions of blank-faced people wielding weapons, trees that also happen to be people, and animals that assist in human self-destruction possess a world-mirroring quality.  Much as James Joyce (a figure you can see in two of the pieces below) sought new ways of communicating the new feelings of a frightened and anxious generation, so Mr Dzama searches for innovative ways to show us the things that have become so common to us thanks to the 24-hour news cycle and too many police-procedural TV dramas (I mean, is there anyone out there who is/would be more shocked by Mr Dzama’s work than by True Detective?).  The surrealists of the early 20th-century exposed to unconscious desires and fears of a rapidly developing world, Mr. Dzama reveals a similar undercurrent in the collective mind of late capitalism.  The audience is given a chance to contemplate just how insane a post-industrial globalized world really is, where people are cramped together in ungrounded space tend to either stand in postures of self-defense, engage in mating rituals, or celebrate some obscure and unknowable thing.  Sounds like the world we live in to me.

marcel dzama bloomsday 2005 james joyce guns surreal drawing zwirner winnipeg new york
Bloomsday (2005)
marcel dzama neptune james joyce flowers surrealist drawing winnipeg new york
Neptune (2005)
marcel dzama-one hand will wash the other 2005 surreal painting
One Hand Will Wash the Other (2005)
marcel dzama eight strong winds 2005 surreal painting guns trees winnipeg
Eight Strong Winds (2005)
marcel dzama shelleys historic morning surreal painting 2005  totem pole
Shelley’s Historic Morning (2005)
marcel dzama winnipeg new york fades away 2005 surrealist painting soldiers flag
Fades Away (2005)
marcel dzama back stage 2007 surreal painting new york winnipeg actos
Back Stage (2007)

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