Collaboration is typical in film, music, design and other mass cultural forms, but less common (or less recognized) in the fine arts. High regard for the singular author’s hand is so ingrained that visitors to this exhibition of collaborative drawings by Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon likely found themselves trying to distinguish which marks were made by which artist. They may have found satisfaction in recognizing a delicate line or frail archer figure as belonging to Dzama, and a slashing stroke or crudely rendered Gumby as characteristic of Pettibon. Yet the artists titled the show “Forgetting the Hand,” possibly to discourage this mode of viewing.
Dzama often works collaboratively. As an art student in Winnipeg in the mid-1990s, he founded the artist collective the Royal Art Lodge. He has since worked with bands such as Arcade Fire and Department of Eagles; with artist and musician Kim Gordon; and, most recently, with choreographer Justin Peck, designing sets and costumes for the fairytale-inspired ballet The Most Incredible Thing, which premiered at the New York City Ballet in February. Pettibon has mainly worked independently, though his early drawings were used for posters and album covers for Black Flag and Sonic Youth, and he has produced video works with Mike Watt, Mike Kelley and Kim Gordon.
For their first joint project, Pettibon and Dzama created a zine that was published by David Zwirner Books in 2015. The exhibition consisted of the original drawings for this collaborative zine as well as new ones. The zine format is closely associated with Pettibon, who distributed his early drawings in self-published photocopied booklets. When mass-produced, drawings lose their direct connection to the artist’s touch and the associated preciousness. The drawings in the show were displayed unframed, marred by holes from thumbtacks that pinned them to the walls—a casual presentation that challenged the hierarchy of original and reproduction.
Motifs begun in the drawings—a bat with wings spread, a tube wave, a Medieval tapestry-style pattern of flora and fauna—continued onto the walls. The mural and the zine are generally narrative forms. Yet, while populated by recognizable characters (Charles Manson, Batman and Robin), the works on view offer no single storyline. Further, their text insertions, inspired by sources ranging from modern literature to daily tabloids, cannot be attributed to a sole narrator. The disjunctive text echoes the artists’ collagelike approach to composition, in which they juxtapose visual styles recalling William Blake, German Expressionism, early fashion illustration and the golden age of comics.
A trailer for Dzama’s new film, A Flower of Evil, was on view in the adjacent gallery (along with polka-dotted cloaks and red masks used in the production, their inclusion foregrounding the theme of masquerade found throughout his work). In one of the clips shown, “Marcel Dzama,” played by Amy Sedaris and channeling van Gogh, cuts off his ear and instructs an assistant to send it to David Zwirner—a gesture that in this context might stand for the fetishization of the artist’s trace.
The drawing Beware Diamond Dog is an homage to the recently deceased David Bowie. Bowie’s adoption of various personae and William Burroughs-type cut-up lyrics resonates with the decentralized subjects in the work of both Pettibon and Dzama. Collaboration itself could be thought of as trying on a different identity, adapting one’s hand to accommodate that of another.