Marcel Dzama: Le Review

150 150 Rob McGibbon

And, so, to the art world and last night’s private view for Marcel Dzama’s new work at Timothy Taylor’s gallery in Mayfair. Waiters in black Zorro masks greeted me with a choice between a bottle of Peroni and a glass of chilled Petit Chablis. A brash, post-minimalist bar, but evocative and splendidly purist. It spoke to me. Still off the beer, I went for a splash of wine. Very nice, too, I thank you, Timothy, but I’ve got to say, it all went a bit downhill after that.

There’s clearly a buzz and dazzle around Dzama, what with his (group) shows at MoMA, but on the evidence of last night it is a wonder to me how this Canadian is generating such attention – and prices. Now, I’m all in favour and praise of people who express their creativity. Bravo to them. I can’t speak for Dzama’s previous work – which may well be amazing, visionary, cutting edge, it may even be good – but this show was thin, to say the least. Less than a Size 0. In fact, if you had phoned up ITV to vote for this exhibition, you would rightly claim you had been short-changed.

The work derives from a 30 minute film (art show screenings only, not yer local multiplex) Dzama made a while back called The Lotus Eaters. It includes images of characters, many in Zorro masks with black beaked noses, sitting on dead tree trunks. You know, I can barely recall a clear image this morning, such was the lasting resonance of his faces. They looked like the rejected off-cuts on a cartoonist’s studio floor.

Also on display were some furry costume heads from Dzama’s “film”. I have seen more dramatic and better constructed models made by 10 year olds with papier mache and ping-pong balls. But, here in Mayfair with beer and wine, these heads and pictures are art, and fairly expensive art at that. One gallery sales person, visibly twitching with glee, told me that most were already sold. The small, unappealing water colours were $10-15,000 a shot and one medium-size montage was $45,000. Average-to-low pricing in this genre and I would have got one or two for the hell of collecting, but I didn’t have any change on me.

The information sheet handed out last night explained Dzama’s talent and inspiration thus: “The long, dark, cold Winnipeg winters meant that Marcel spent a lot of time inside drawing a dystopian world inhabited by femmes fatale, bats, bears, cowboys and superheroes.” Hmm, I stayed in a lot drawing when it shanked down in Bromley when I was a kid. But when does childhood cartooning become art? When an art dealer tells his people, that’s when.

Now, I’ve been to countless private views in the past few years and I’ve done all the main London art shows, and, well, the whole shebang leaves me ever more puzzled. The big fairs seem to be little more than a free-drink fest, with hoards of liggers staggering around in a fug of cheap, New World chardonnay or shiraz looking with ever deteriorating eye-sight at works of questionable quality and depth, let alone basic intrigue or beauty. The contemporary art world is thriving like never before and is awash with money and product. Of course, it is not all bad, but why such continuing hype about so little?

Well, here’s a thing. I completed my first painting on canvas last weekend. It was an oddly rewarding experience, especially as it began with a definite twinge of panic and artist’s angst when I first stared at the blank canvas. I suddenly connected with all the grand Masters who had hunched over an easel before me. We were one.

But it’s not that hard, you know. A short while later I had produced a picture that is a compelling, poignant and painful depiction of personal suffering and 21st century alienation. Or, indeed, it could also be a quite colourful abstract miniature with a circle and some blocks.

I’m thinking of exhibiting my solitary picture here, then you can all decide. The price? Let’s leave that to the dealers…