New York

Marcel Dzama

David Zwirner | 519 West 19th Street

Marcel Dzama’s drawings are like frozen moments from dreams and nightmares. The twenty-six-year-old Canadian continues to add to his voluminous output of simple ink-and-watercolor drawings of various human and animal characters. In Dzama’s shows, the sheets of creamy Manila paper, most of which he tacks to the wall unframed, are often so numerous (191 were included here, and they can number as many as 500 in a single exhibition) that it can be difficult to focus on any one of them for long. All are equally fantastical, absurd, and deadpan. In the eleven-by-fourteen drawings recently on view, one can. recognize a population of regulars that includes superheroes, the Tin Man, and a host of friends from the animal kingdom: owls, bunnies, crocodiles, and a lot of brown bears. Sometimes the animals wear cardigans and slacks; sometimes they are armed with knives or guns; sometimes they dance with women; sometimes they are women (in animal suits).

There’s a lot of early-twentieth-century culture percolating through Dzama’s fertile imagination: comic books, serial Westerns, Surrealism, psychoanalysis. His illustrational style and palette of muted browns, grays, and olive greens reinforce the vintage feel. And his female figures—stylish molls and trim flappers with bobbed hair, fur-trimmed coats, and cloches, often brandishing pistols—seem yanked from silent films. These elements together make for elegant, often startling vignettes of psychosexual high jinks. Dzama’s world is rife with Freudian symbolism, and despite the obviousness of the references and the humor with which they are supplied, it can get a little dark. Castration and S&M are frequent themes. In one drawing (all works Untitled, 2000). a nude female straddles a prone man to saw off his head, while from his crotch a gray cloud rises and forms a face that smiles at the scene. In another, a blond woman takes a dump on a man’s face, but he’s somewhat protected by his Captain America mask (maybe the whole thing was his idea?). Everyone in the drawings smokes cigarettes, sublimation being essential to survival in this bizarre world. (Besides, if the antismoking police were pointing their guns at you, you’d want that last drag too.) It’s hard not to think of the black humor of Raymond Pettibon, who also exhibits his drawings wall to wall and by the dozen, but Dzama’s tone lacks Pettibon’s harshness and sense of existential failure. In fact, Dzama’s approach seems fail-safe. The sheer abundance of the works and their sense of the ridiculous lend a populist appeal to his artistic enterprise, but where does it go from here? If Dzama hears eBay calling, I hope he doesn’t answer.

Meghan Dailey