marcel dzama curates a show of masks, from cindy sherman to raymond pettibon
The artist discusses the mask-themed works he curated for the David Zwirner booth at Independent Brussels.
Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon 'I take pride as the king of illiterature', 2015 Pencil, ink, gouache, and collage on paper 21 1/8 x 16 1/4 inches 53.7 x 41.3 cm
"Be what you want to be," Marcel Dzama says of the theme of The Mask Makers, the booth he's curating for David Zwirner at Independent Brussels. "The mask is freedom, anonymity, a new identity or gender, and bridging us to the afterlife." The exhibition is rooted in Dzama's own fascination with masks, which have appeared in his work since the mid-1990s. Even as a child, Dzama was drawn to them, particularly the wooden Inuit masks at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and a Greek theater mask that his grandmother gave him when he was eight. "Since then," he says, "I've always taken note and enjoyed it when I saw other artists doing masks."
One such work that Dzama paid particular attention to was Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889, a complex oil painting by James Ensor of clownish clergymen and carnival goers that hangs at the Getty. The Mask Makers is a nod to the Belgian painter, and the booth will include some of his prints. There will also be contributions from Zwirner artists Mamma Andersson, R. Crumb, Sherrie Levine, Jockum Nordström, Raymond Pettibon, Jordan Wolfson, and Lisa Yuskavage, as well as works by David Altmejd, Peter Doig, James Ensor, Marilyn Minter and Cindy Sherman, among others. Dzama will also share several of his own works, including "The cast and crew of the revolutions"— a graphite drawing of costumes he designed for the New York City Ballet—which will be employed as wallpaper to create a contextual environment in the booth. Here, Dzama discusses some of the pieces in The Mask Makers, and opens up about his ongoing fascination with the disguises.
For this show, I was lucky enough to have access to the archives of the artists at David Zwirner, and found a majority of the works in the show from the gallery. I was surprised by the richness of the catalog, even though the roster of artists is excellent. There were many works previously unknown to me that suited the theme well. For example, I've always been a Wolfgang Tillmans fan but I didn't know he had done a series of mask photographs, so I was really lucky to be able to include these works. R. Crumb and his wife Aline Kominsky had a show recently at Zwirner, and one of the panels they did for it worked perfectly for this. That was a nice little coincidence too.
I knew instantly that Stan Douglas could be a part of it—he had a show at Zwirner a few years back, and it had all these Halloween masks in it. The gallery still had "Trick or Treat," and it's just a great image that really stayed with me. It's almost like a father and son, or older brother and little brother, looking through their bags of treats, and it has a 1940s feel to it.
Isa Genzken had a show at Zwirner in 2015 filled with mannequins in their garage space. It was open in the summertime, and you could walk past it, and it looked almost like a lineup for a Halloween party or some interesting nightclub. I was happy to find out that they had one of those mannequins available. Definitely after seeing her MoMA show, but before that too, I have been following her work with enthusiasm.
And then looking through the archives, I found this fantastic Al Taylor piece that had this mask-feel to it—I mean, it's definitely a sculpture, but the idea of it was exciting. I love his work and was glad to find that piece to be able to include it. He also had this one called the Study for Coconut Mask that was pretty exciting to find. It was almost like, when I used to be in a band, I used to go to pawn shops a lot and look for an affordable guitar, and finding one was like this treasure. Finding pieces for this show was kind of like that, it took a lot of investigation, but it was really fun.
Lisa Yuskavage's work is of this girl with a mask who is showing only her bottom half. I love the play of hiding one thing and showing another. Lisa was doing this thing in 2013 where she would draw with pastels over colored inkjet paper, which faded from dark to light purple. I love this piece.
I also included three emerging artists: Hans Accola, Thomas Dozol and Young Sun Han. I commissioned a work from Hans as I've been interested in his assemblage pieces and was very curious to imagine what kind of mask work he would make. He ended up making this astonishing wood toilet seat mask sculpture called Soul Singer. Young Sun Han is a young artist that I first saw at the summer show at Zwirner. His piece is a political work that's very strong. I'm really happy it's here because a lot of this work was made before the 2016 election and Young's addresses it directly and with a beautiful resonance.
David Altmejd is a fellow Canadian artist whom I love from Canada. I was thrilled that he could be a part of the show. I had him in mind from the beginning, as anything from his mind could be appropriate for this theme. Same with Chris Ofili, Mamma Andersson, Jockum Nordström, Marilyn Minter and Cindy Sherman. I have such a strong affinity for their work that I was happy to receive anything from them, as I knew it would fit well with what I wanted to do, and their pieces are all beautiful. These are all my favorite artists and people, so they needed to be here.
There's also several collaborations I did with the great Raymond Pettibon. Our collaborations really started at dinners, when we would draw on napkins and tablecloths together. Lucas Zwirner, who runs David Zwirner Books, saw this and said we should do a zine with these, so he put us on a mission to make a zine for a book fair. We did that zine, and then that turned into two or three shows of us collaborating together. I have much more fun working with Ray than doing solo work. He tells the most poetic stories.
Cast this started with an old drawing Raymond did of a giant erection on a blank page, and I kind of drew around it. I drew a girl floating above the erection. Marcel Duchamp was referencing some striptease magazine in some late prints that he did in the 50s or 40s, and I drew the girl based on those prints.
I take pride as the king of illiterature was based on a Francis Picabia drawing he did for one of his books called Literature, and it had all these naked ladies, basically in that pattern, with "literature" written on them. So we were playing with that image. Raymond had drawn all of these large erections, so I just thought they were big, dumb penises, so they were pretty much illiterate. It's a little art-history orgy.
Then there's one called Willem with Bo—my son's name is Willem and Raymond's son is Bo. My son is obsessed with archery, so I did a fast drawing of him when we were all upstate, and then I passed it to Raymond and he added all this great fog with an animal in it. The idea that our two sons are together in one drawing made that one kind of precious, and it was great to have it be a part of the show.
Marcel Dzama's The Mask Makers is on view at the David Zwirner booth of Independent Brussels from April 19-23.
Text Zio Baritaux
Images courtesy David Zwirner Gallery