Marcel Dzama: Behind Every Curtain


Exploding bishops, dancing white queens and masked girls with guns. This is the vocabulary of Marcel Dzama’s latest film A Game of Chess in his new exhibit Behind Every Curtain, which just opened at New York’s David Zwirner gallery. But to get to the screening room, one had to walk through two rooms of sculptures, drawings and intricate paper-cut dioramas related to the film, the set-up of which seemed to be an experiment in scale and light.

In the first room, you’re dwarfed by the White Queen and an outsize white rook that seems to be a future relative of the Michelin Man, while in the next room you press your face close to watercolors, storyboards and wall-mounted dioramas densely and delicately constructed of leafy cut-paper figurines. Also in this room (and perhaps the most interesting on display) is the storyboard for the film, which depicts hand drawn scenes with directives and clues to the film’s narrative: “There are two kingdoms at war. One is red and the other is white. The red queen is dead. So the red king is searching for subjects to become pawns.” And finally you get to the dark screening room, which has the soundless flickering film projected in black and white, with a four-piece live mariachi band providing the score, strains of which could be heard as you walked around the gallery.

When asked “why chess?” Marcel Dzama, who appeared in a tweed suit, replied “because of Marcel Duchamp.” Chess, as a subject, was a strong influence for avant-garde artists of the early 20th century who drew correlations between the game (with its interplay between improvisation and intention) and artistic practice. Though Duchamp left art to pursue his favorite pastime, chess. Dzama also noted as an influence Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer, who had masked puppet-like figures dancing across a checkered surface in his Triadic Ballet (1922). And this isn’t the first time Dzama has paid homage to Duchamp, his early 20th century Dada namesake, whose works like Étant Donnés were referenced by Dzama in his last show with his diorama Even the Ghost of the Past. But for all it’s gory war scenes, hooded women and hand-crafted quality, Dzama’s work, unlike Duchamp’s, never unsettles you. It is battle warm, bloody, and fuzzy.

Watch the official trailer for A Game of Chess below, and click through for a gallery of images.

Sculpture of the White Rook

Sculpture of the White Queen and sculpture of a masked woman with a gun

Sculpture of the White Queen

The artist, Marcel Dzama, in a tweed suit

In this gallery, paper-cut dioramas were displayed in wood boxes affixed to the walls.

Marcel Dzama said that his wife, also an artist, helped him cut out the images for the dioramas to make his deadline.

Detail from one papercut diorama

Still from A Game of Chess showing the black king and a white rook

Still from A Game of Chess showing “the audience”

Still from A Game of Chess showing the White Queen and pawns

Live score provided by a mariachi band

Still from A Game of Chess

Sketches from the storyboard for A Game of Chess

Sketches from the storyboard for A Game of Chess

Sketches from the storyboard for A Game of Chess

Sketches from the storyboard for A Game of Chess

Sketches from the storyboard for A Game of Chess