Synopses & Reviews
Bats, nurses, Marlene Dietrich, a malevolent figure in a bear suit, two cowboys playing king-of-the-mountain on a rosebush, a group of men placidly eating babies at a makeshift picnic table, while, above them, a tree grows more babies: Marcel Dzama is back. As readers will learn in The Course of Human History Personified, he's a sleepwalker, a sleepdrawer--I draw during the day, but the ideas come at night. He records his visions in a bedside-table notebook. The finished work, in ink and watercolor, in a limited color scheme, against empty backgrounds, stripped of narrative context, offers many possible interpretations. Its cast of characters is expansive and in each drawing their roles become more complex and defined. Dzama's influences include Blake, Goya, Botticelli, and James Ensor and his sources encompass native mythology, Inuit art, Dante's Divine Comedy, medieval paintings and American folklore. The title, The Course of Human History Personified, is borrowed from Dante and recalls the grandiose artistic and literary cycles of the nineteenth century such as Thomas Cole's 1836 The Course of Empire, where nature plays as large a role as humans. Here nature is personified--imagined characters and trees and beasts assume base human characteristics. If it's a dark view of the world, it's also an entrancing one.
Over the past few years Marcel Dzama's drawings of odd mutant figures have propelled him to bona fide art stardom. Executed with guileless simplicity and infused with a radiant innocence and an idiosyncratic sense of humor far removed from other strategies that have fueled artmaking over the past decade, Dzama's work is part of a new sensibility among artists born in the mid-1970s, that mingles the influence of Henry Darger, cartoon strips and a dark surrealistic streak. This concise and affordable survey examines the evolution of Dzama's singular approach to drawing between the key years of 1996 and 2001, using works held in the Bernardi Collection. In an accompanying essay, James Patten links Dzama to Mikhail Bakhtin's ideas on grotesque humor and the carnivalesque, showing how each drawing contains an amalgam of allusions to twentieth-century popular culture.