In ‘Wild Kindness,’ Marcel Dzama Dreams Up Worlds of Uncanny Whimsy


#Marcel Dzama

March 21, 2024

Grace Ebert

“I have your applause” (2024), pearlescent acrylic, ink, watercolor, and graphite on paper, 54 x 40.3 centimeters. All images courtesy of Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp-Rome, shared with permission

Whether working in acrylic and ink on paper or carving small wooden sculptures, Marcel Dzama uses performance as an ordering tool. Raised in Winnipeg before relocating to Brooklyn, the artist is known for imagining whimsical worlds that appear to emerge from a strange, even unsettling dream.

“My drawings were very minimal in Canada, and when I first moved to New York, they became very dense with a lot of characters. They were very claustrophobic, and to put some order to the chaos of those drawings, I started putting the characters into dance positions,” he said in a 2022 interview.

In his latest exhibition titled Wild Kindness at Tim Van Laere Gallery, Dzama expands on this organizing principle of performance with dozens of paintings, sculptures, costumes, and films. Showcasing his distinct style of surrealism with unnerving undertones, the works feature many of the artist’s recurring motifs, including masked figures, moons with wry smiles, and anthropomorphized chess pieces—these are both true to scale in some sculptures and standing to heights that rival a half-grown child in others.

Tropical, oceanic settings ground many of the recent paintings with rising tides encroaching on the subjects. “A Song for Nature’s Queen,” for example, depicts a disguised woman serenading another surrounded by a menagerie of bright red birds and cats, all submerged in a shallow pool. Similarly in “Bright starry eyes & bright starry skies,” a troupe of dancers clad in gold polka-dotted bodysuits wade through water, their eyes casting uncanny reflections on the surface below.


four geometric steel sculptures stand in gallery, two are blue and white and the others are orange and red

From left: “Blue rook #1” (2016), steel and industrial enamel paint, 166 x 74 x 74 centimeters. “Red pawn #1” (2016), steel and industrial enamel paint, 123 x 47 x 47 centimeters. “Red rook #1” (2016), steel and industrial enamel paint, 166 x 74 x 74 centimeters. “Blue pawn #2” (2016), steel and industrial enamel paint, 122 x 48 x 48 centimeters

Dzama wields an unparalleled visual vocabulary that reaches across eras, geographies, and cultures. In Wild Kindness alone, his references include but are in no way limited to Federico Garciá Lorca’s surrealist play Trip to the Moon, the cosmos, ballet, kitsch portraiture, artists like Marcel Duchamp and Francisco de Goya, and a 1998 album by the indie rock band Silver Jews, from which the exhibition draws its name. Such wide-ranging influences mirror the visual density of the works, which plunge viewers into the artist’s richly layered universe.

Wild Kindness continues through May 11 in Antwerp. Dzama also has works on view through June 9 in Kleinburg, Ontario, for his solo show Ghosts of Canoe Lake at McMichael Canadian Art Collection. Find more on Instagram.


a folded chessboard with wooden characters standing on it

“The Queen and her sister squares” (2022), wood, acrylic, and graphite in seven parts, 28 x 47 x 24.3 centimeters

two women half submerged and surrounded by cats and red brids. one woman on the left serenades the group

“A Song for Nature’s Queen” (2024), pearlescent acrylic, ink, watercolor, and graphite on paper, 167.6 x 131.4 centimeters

dancers in gold polka dotted blue costumes perform in water with a star studded sky behind them

“Bright starry eyes & bright starry skies” (2024), pearlescent acrylic, ink, watercolor, and graphite on paper, 132.5 x 89 centimeters

a chess set with character sculptures as pieces

“The Chess Set” (2024), wood, acrylic, charcoal, and graphite, 25 x 62.4 x 62.4 centimteres

a costume with a star-patterned cloak appears in a gallery with dozens of works on the wall behind

Installation view of “Infinity Moth” (2024), fabric, painted mannequin on rotating device, mask, costume designed by Marcel Dzama, made by Christian Joy, 202 x 132 x 42 centimeters

a wide, horizontal work with a smiling sun and animals in a tropical pond, along with a duck wearing a hat and holding an umbrella

“In the sun we feel like one” (2023), pearlescent acrylic, ink, watercolor, and graphite on paper, 31 x 101 centimeters

two blue seahorses swim underwater surrounded by fish and plants

“There are no waves, only ocean” (2024), pearlescent acrylic, ink, watercolor, graphite, and collage on paper, 22 x 31.2 centimeters

#Marcel Dzama


Do stories and artists like this matter to you? Become a Colossal Member today and support independent arts publishing for as little as $5 per month. You’ll connect with a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about contemporary art, read articles and newsletters ad-free, sustain our interview series, get discounts and early access to our limited-edition print releases, and much more. Join now!