Looks like New York has grown tired of Marcel Dzama. Nearly anyone I’ve talked to on the subject of his exhibition at David Zwirner emits a low groan when I bring up his name, and Roberta Smith reviewed his 6th New York solo show this past week offering only a few good words on the subject. She’s mostly right; the three elaborate phases are progressively compelling, the war time illustrations tedious, the puppet theater dioramas over produced, and the film with piano accompaniment, actually compelling. I would add to this assessment however, greater specificity to the tedium Smith observes in the first room; too many drawings, and not enough variation therein. Smaller works on canvas would have helped add dimension to the show, as would have removing many of the drawings. They all look the same after a while and nobody likes an artist who resembles a factory; it suggests an insufficient examination of the ideas propelling the work. Indeed, Smith closes her review with the assessment that Dzama needs to think about the nostalgia driving his work.
The drawings are unfortunately placed in this show, because they are the first works seen, and leave little incentive to carry forward. Like Smith, I agree that the elaborate sets in the next room suffer from over production; such problems typically exist due to lack of resolution in subject matter. For example, The Infidels, a vignette depicting a small dead animal with bats hovering over top, is stunningly beautiful, but a little too cute to carry the insidious message it would seem to intend. As a result, the subject matter feels benign and forgettable, even if the object isn’t. By contrast, Room Full of Liars, [above] a set made up of eight puppets, each with growing noses, presents a deeply troubling scene, their perfect arrangement and construction seemingly implicated in the doll’s moral depravity.
To be honest though, I probably wouldn’t be talking about this show or Smith’s review at all, if I hadn’t seen Lotus Eaters, the silent film projected in the back of the gallery accompanied by a live piano player. However, as means of eliminating unnecessary redundancy, rather than rehash sentiments I share almost verbatim, I’ve simply quoted her words on the subject below.
The show culminates in “Lotus Eaters,” a silent film about an artist's loneliness and the role of memory, love and companionship in the quest for self-expression. It stars Mr. Dzama's father, and begins and ends with a dancing bear, a longtime Dzama character. It is greatly buoyed by its musical accompaniment, especially on Saturday, when the pianist David Cieri improvises to the action on screen, delivering one of the most poignant aesthetic experiences currently available in Chelsea.