In Marcel Dzama’s family home in Winnipeg, Canada, a photograph of the artist and his father hangs above the television set. The image, taken a few years ago, shows the duo on the edge of Hong Kong’s famous harbourfront in Tsim Sha Tsui, smiling at the camera and standing in front of the historic Clock Tower, which marked its 100th anniversary in operation this March and is the last remnant of what was once the southern terminus of the Kowloon-Canton Railway line.
The room where the photograph now hangs is where his parents spend most of their days. “So it’s a good spot for it,” says Dzama. “It’s a nice memory of being in Hong Kong.” And it was this moment he referred to for a new work created especially for Tatler that will be exhibited by David Zwirner gallery at Art Basel in Hong Kong from May 19 to 23.
The painting, Year of the Ox, depicts a bull-headed figure and a masked woman clutching a bouquet of red roses standing in front of the Clock Tower that Dzama’s parents look at every day. Dzama, 47, is famous for his whimsical ink-and-watercolour paintings that are packed with cloaked figures and anthropomorphised animals, as well as for playful videos starring famous collaborators such as the actress Amy Sedaris dressed as mythical creatures. He describes his art as humorous, but there are also big ideas lurking behind many of his pieces, as well as references to masterpieces from art history.
While Year of the Ox is outwardly a celebration of this year’s Chinese zodiac animal, oxen and bull-like creatures make frequent appearances throughout Dzama’s work and that of some of the most famous artists of the 20th century as symbols both of male virility and vulnerability—Dzama cites Goya’s etchings of bullfights, Picasso’s paintings of the minotaur and Francis Picabia’s modernist painting, The Adoration of the Calf, which depicts raised hands in worship of a cow’s head placed on a pedestal.
Dzama’s painting also can be read as an interpretation of the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast, written in 1740 by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. “Beauty and the Beast was a good story before Disney,” says Dzama, who cites as one of his influences director Jean Cocteau’s film version released in 1946, ranked by the late critic Roget Ebert as one of the best movies ever made.
Most of all, though, Dzama says he was inspired by the time he spent in Hong Kong. He first visited the city in 2018, when Zwirner opened his gallery in the H Queen’s tower in Central, his first space outside the US and Europe. To mark the occasion, Zwirner invited all of the artists on his roster to the city. More than 20 came, including painters Chris Ofili and Lisa Yuskavage, multidisciplinary artist Francis Alys and sculptor Carol Bove.
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