Marcel Dzama, 2008. Photo: Jason Schmidt, courtesy David Zwirner gallery
Born in Winnipeg in 1974, Marcel Dzama’s work is populated by a cast of recurring characters: bears, bats, and trees; masked assassins, military officers and acrobatic performers. In his drawings, painting, sculptures, installations and videos, ghostly girls and mongrel men clash and convulse in otherworldly scenes that seem to come from nightmares, comic strips or history books.
His palette of murky browns, washed-out greys and rich reds has become instantly recognizable, as has his penchant for dark, even childlike humor, which he uses to explore subjects as complex as the motivations behind acts of power, violence and erotica. Pulling influences from folk art, Dadaism and the landscape of his native Winnipeg, Dzama’s work is at once grotesque and alluring, provocative and playful, while probing deeply into a human essence that is often beyond the pale.
Dzama was a founding member of the influential drawing collective The Royal Art Lodge, which gained international attention for collaboratively produced drawings, videos, paintings, dolls, comics, artist books and other art-making activities. At a time when drawing and collaborative practice were enjoying a resurgence in the art world, The Royal Art Lodge became something of a phenomenon, exporting work from the relative isolation of the Canadian Prairies to numerous international exhibitions and art fairs. Dzama remained a member until moving to New York in 2004 at the urging of his dealer David Zwirner.
Since then, he has had over 25 solo exhibitions, and has been included in nearly 100 group shows. His work is collected by public and private collectors, and has even found its way into popular culture with work as diverse as album covers, costume design and book illustration.
Shows, collections and exhibition history
Dzama has been featured in group exhibitions such as Winnipeg Now at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (2012–2013); Oh, Canada, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams, Massachusetts (2012–2013); Fairy Tales, Monsters, and the Genetic Imagination, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, Tennessee, followed by the Winnipeg Art Gallery and Glenbow Art Museum, Calgary (2012–2013); My Winnipeg, la maison rouge, Paris, the Musée International des Arts Modestes, Sète France, and Plug In Institute for Contemporary Art, Winnipeg (2011); Painting Between the Lines, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco; and A Paper Trail, Cultuurcentrum de Werft, Geel, Belgium. In 2010, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal organized a major retrospective of his work.
His art can be found in numerous private collections worldwide, as well as many major public collections, including the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York; the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal; the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, Spain; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Tate Modern, London, and the Vancouver Art Gallery. His work is collected celebrities as well, including Spike Jonze, Jim Carrey, Viggo Mortensen and Gus Van Sant.
Dzama’s art can be seen on album covers designed for Beck, They Might be Giants and fellow Winnipeg natives, The Weakerthans, as well as illustrations for books by Nick Hornby and Sarah Vowell. He has also designed costumes for music videos featuring Bob Dylan, N.A.S.A. and the Department of Eagles.