Who Loves the Sun, an exhibition of films and drawings by the contemporary artist and costume designer Marcel Dzama is currently on view at David Zwirner‘s Upper East Side location. This is the first artist’s solo show in New York since 2014; the featured works were all created in the past year during the pandemic-related lockdown. Most of these drawings were inspired by pre-pandemic photographs that Dzama took on his many travels; the subjects include dancers, elaborate costumes, wild animals, mythical creatures, and multiple personifications of the sun and moon.
The show’s centerpiece, which bears the same name as the exhibition title, is flamboyant and bursting with color. It depicts dancers performing in a ballet. The sun, with human facial features, is in the center, its fiery rays emanating light that covers the entire stage. The curtains, on either side of the composition, are covered in designs of plants and animals — birds, goats, and tigers outlined in white. On stage are ten female performers with 1920s style haircuts and eye masks wearing short dresses with spiral and geometric designs, two half-human half-animal characters wearing long dresses with square, stripe, and polka-dot patterns, two bats, a tiger, another half-human half-animal in the body of a young girl, and performer in the very center stage balancing a peacock on one arm, and an owl on the other.
WHAT: Marcel Dzama, Who Loves the Sun
WHEN: September 8—October 23, 2021
WHERE: David Zvirner, 34 East 69th St., New York
A similar work, titled “No Less Than Everything Comes Together,” is a drawing for a large-scale mosaic piece Dzama created for the popular MTA Arts & Design program. Like “Who Loves the Sun,” this piece also depicts a stage performance. In it, 13 performers of different racial backgrounds, all dressed in blue and white polka-dot dresses and leotards, some are leaping in the air and some are sitting Indian-style on the floor, raising their arms, reveal the flame of candlelight. The stage backdrop features the sun and moon, both with facial features shown cheek to cheek.
Other whimsical, light-hearted works include “A Midsummer Night’s Sonnet” inspired by Shakespeare’s play, and “Our Father was a Beast, Mother a Beauty, and Grandpa Was a Vampire.” “Sonnet” features three very different characters wandering through a rainforest at night. They include a dapper-dressed woman with a 1920s haircut. Dressed in a blue and white striped suit, she wears an eye mask around her eyes; smoke rises from a cigarette in her hand. The central character is half-animal, half-human. It features a donkey’s head atop a woman’s body wearing an electric blue bathrobe with large yellow polka dots. She appears to be performing a song as she stares proudly into space, her mouth open with one hand on her heart and her other arm spread out, gesturing to the sky as a mysterious insect flies above. Peeking out from behind her is a young man with a mischievous, devilish expression. His hair, lips, and eyebrows are flaming red, as is his shirt.
“Our Father Was a Beast” depicts two young girls sitting on a lion’s back at night on the beach with tropical plants on either side of them. An older woman can be seen looking at the girls in awe while gently holding the lion’s tail.
While many of Dzama’s works are animated and upbeat, some reveal a darker side. A series titled “I’m Glad Mama Fought, I’d Only Wish She Won” and “Mama Gonna Rise Again, But If We Make Her Fall, We Going Down With Her,” shows Mother Nature in the form of a woman’s body surrounded by sea creatures. “I’m Glad Mama Fought” is a painting of a sinking oil ship and Mother Nature struggling to stay alive underwater, while “Mama Gonna Rise Again” depicts Mother Nature lying dead on the bottom of the ocean.
Some of the films in the exhibition include the imaginative Lost Cat Disco, a film Dzama made with his son Williem where a young boy repeatedly sings about how he lost his cat while wearing various masks and Dzama-designed head coverings.
The other films are Dance Floor Dracula, Prelude in C-Sharp Minor —a nearly six-minute film starring Amy Sedaris and Raymond Pettibon; and Who Loves the Sun that features the Velvet Underground’s song of the same name playing in the background replete with images of nature, wildlife, Dzama’s artwork, and several characters wearing his masks and costumes.