Who Loves the Sun
“Who loves the sun?” croons Lou Reed over a driving, uptempo beat in the Velvet Underground’s eponymous track. The song is not, as it might first seem, an encomium to nature and the sun that nurtures all life. “Who cares that it makes the plants grow,” Reed continues. “Who cares what it does / Since you broke my heart?”
Like the song from which the exhibition draws its title, many of the works at Marcel Dzama’s show at David Zwirner bear a bright, sunny veneer. In That light is from the moon (or Don’t turn out the lights just yet … that light is from the moon), (2020–2021)—one of several panoramic drawings Dzama created for the New York City ballet—an anthropomorphized sun with exaggerated features presides over a procession of dancers, some mid-leap, others poised in ballet’s fifth position, and still others seated. All are dressed in hallucinogenic patterns of blue and white, and set against floors, curtains, and a backdrop of the same vibrant motifs.
It’s enough to nearly overpower more uncanny aspects of the work: the implacable, blank faces of the dancers, the long-nosed Pinocchio who creeps in from the left side of one painting, the sweet felines that sometimes veer too close to human. Like the Velvet Underground’s song, Dzama’s work expresses the dangers of turning inward, away from nature, and the artist is at his best when his work retains a level of ambiguity. Elsewhere, as in I’m glad mama fought. I only wish she won. (2021)— in which Mother Nature lovingly cradles a sinking ship’s bow—he’s heavy-handed, if still compelling.
Dzama’s works here are inspired by photographs he took while traveling with his son through Fire Island, New York, Mexico, and Morocco before COVID-19 travel restrictions set in. Indeed, they are nostalgic not just for life before the current pandemic, but also for a time long ago, when nature retained an unknowable allure. In the more intimately scaled paintings, hung salon-style on one wall, modelesque women in fifties and sixties attire meet impossible or extinct creatures with strange, sometimes comical faces, as if hailing from a time when artists painted animals from travelers’ descriptions of faraway places—or a time of shelter in place, when the imagination, fantastic and fatalistic, runs wild. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Marcel Dzama, We dance like the fire on the bones of the liars and let truth rise from the ash (or Moon dance), 2021. © Marcel Dzama. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner