Loading the Canon #4: Marcel Dzama

Loading the Canon #4 by Helena-Anne Hittel

Marcel Dzama

“Marcel Dzama’s work is characterized by an immediately recognizable visual language that draws from a diverse range of references and artistic influences, including Dada and Marcel Duchamp.” Oh man. The moment you give me Marcel Duchamp, I kinda want to scream (although, if we looked at the manifestos of the Dadaists and their opposites, the Futurists, I would fall into the Dada camp). Dzama, however, doesn’t give me a shovel and call it “In Advance of a Broken Arm”. No, we get melty snowmen. And sad ghosts. And elegant, balletic, rifle-toting terrorists.

Dzama was born in 1974 in Winnipeg, Canada. He studied art and earned his Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from the University of Manitoba in 1998. He has exhibited in the U.S. and overseas, and his artwork is held in institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Gallery in London, and The National Gallery of Canada, to name a few. He is currently represented by David Zwerner in London and New York. Dzama works in many mediums, from ink and watercolors to sculpture. You may even recognize his work from the cover of Beck’s 2005 album, Guero. Dzama has published 8 monographs so far, his most recent being Puppets, Pawns and Prophets. A new monograph is in the works for this fall.

Anyone that knows me knows that I’m really not a fan when it comes to Dada. As I’ve said before, even though I’d ideologically fall into their camp, the artwork doesn’t interest me. Marcel Dzama’s works seem different and refreshing to me. Dzama is like the illustrator of fractured fairy tales. His work is reminiscent of the Bayeux Tapestry, only far more modern and slightly more chaotic.The only things the two seem to share are the simple backgrounds and the simplified human shapes. His imagery has more meaning than just what you see. When presented with artwork from The Infidels (published 2010), hooded rifle-wielding girls reference American current events (“the kind of stereotypical terrorists with AK-47s”). The aforementioned “melty snowmen” were inspired by autobiographical drawings of his move from Winnipeg to New York.

Art gets pretty introspective and heavy in subject matter. Artists, after all, draw from the world around them, so what better subject matter than what’s happening today? However, it’s almost fun to consider, even though these scary hooded girls are pointing guns in your general direction. Dzama’s art looks so childlike and fun, but in muted, hushed tones, almost like the drawings in the caves at Lascaux in their palette. It’s so unlike the Dadaists of old that he draws from, I’m almost compelled to give them a second look. This would make the Futurists I mentioned earlier angry, of course, those artist who focused on banishing the past completely. I think, however, that without the opportunity to view what’s come before us, there’s little way to make new ideas. Marcel Dzama has given us new, exciting work and adapted an “old” style to fit a “new” era.


Helena-Anne Hittel (Episode 35, essay) is an Art History Major at the University of Central Florida and Intern at the UCF Art Gallery.

One response to “Loading the Canon #4: Marcel Dzama”

  1. […] times before that, of all artistic movements, there’s very little love in my heart for Dadaism. Loading the Canon #4’s Marcel Dzama made me hopeful, I’ll admit. I was hopeful, really. I was actually kinda happy! […]

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