Thursday, December 31, 2015

Star-crossed artists

"Marcel Dzama: Une Danse des Bouffons (A Jester's Dance)"

Posted By on Thu, Dec 31, 2015 at 4:09 PM

Art history nerds: gather 'round! Through January 24, a beautiful, surreal film currently screening in Memorial Art Gallery's Lockhart Gallery (500 University Avenue) provides a great opportunity to play a little game of art "I Spy." Canadian artist Marcel Dzama's 2013 "Une Danse des Bouffons (A Jester's Dance)" is chock-full of references to the work of Marcel Duchamp, Francisco Goya, Francis Picabia, Joseph Beuys, and others, as well as allusions to Duchamp's life.

This exhibition is atypical for The MAG's Lockhart Gallery, which is usually utilized for great shows of works on paper. It's nice to see it transformed into an open, darkened space for the screening of a contemporary film.

The 30-minute, continuously looping, 2013 work is a fictionalized account of the ill-fated affair between Dada artist Duchamp and Brazilian sculptor Maria Martins. A tale told twice, back-to-back and with subtle variations, the strange and exciting Dadaist love story is conveyed through a collision of themes, including death and rebirth, multiple identities and doppelgängers, false prophets, lost love, the corruption of power, and the fragility of truth.

Using a recreation of Marcel Duchamp's sculptural installation, "ÉtantDonnés," a trickster figure summons the character of Maria Martins (played by Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Hannelore Knuts) from the sculpture. Maria discovers her lover (a captive Marcel Duchamp, played by Jason Grisell) bound and at the mercy of a group of tormentors.

Her efforts to rescue her love are reminiscent of Alice's bewildering trip down the rabbit hole to a dark and mad wonderland populated by a monstrous assortment of beings. Decked with bizarre paint, costumes, hoods, and masks, the various players are forced to perform on a television program for a truly menacing-looking judge (also played by Grisell).

At times, the scenes and tone read a bit like Bosch's "Musician's Hell" come to life; at other moments, the sabre-wielding, masked terrorists trigger associations with current events. The production -- a silent work, save an engaging musical score by Will Butler, Jeremy Gara, Tim Kingsbury, and Dzama -- is full of eerie and intense theatrics. Here, buffoonery is an entertainment, and cruelty a performance.

The MAG will be closed New Year's Day. Regular hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday until 9 p.m. Admission is $5-$14 (free to members and kids age 5 and under; half-price admission on Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m.). For more information, call 276-8900 or visit

Fair warning: this exhibition contains nudity and suggested violence.

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