This Brooklyn Subway Station Is a Portal Into Marcel Dzama’s Surrealist Universe

Home / This Brooklyn Subway Station Is a Portal Into Marcel Dzama’s Surrealist Universe
This Brooklyn Subway Station Is a Portal Into Marcel Dzama’s Surrealist Universe

In May 2020, amid New York City’s COVID-19 lockdown, Brooklyn-based artist Marcel Dzama shared his most unexpected longing during home isolation with GARAGE Magazine: “Riding the subway.”

Now, post-lockdown, Dzama can have the double pleasure of riding the subway and seeing his own works adorning the walls of the recently refurbished Bedford Avenue subway station in the Williamsburg neighborhood of north Brooklyn.

Commuter the Bedford Avenue subway station passing by one of Marcel Dzama’s glass mosaics

Commissioned by MTA Arts and Design and fabricated by Mayer of Munich, Dzama’s permanent installation, No Less Than Everything Comes Together (2021), includes two pairs of colorful, large-scale glass mosaics located on the station’s two mezzanines: one at Bedford Avenue and the other at Driggs Avenue.

Like subterranean portals to another dimension, Dzama’s extramundane compositions feature anthropomorphic blue-tinted moons and red-lipped suns hanging above a congregation of ballerinas in Zorro masks, performing a synchronized dance with animals and beasts of all sorts.

The MTA Arts and Design includes four pieces on the station’s two mezzanines

As if reflecting the around-the-clock-ness of the busy subway station, the mosaics alternate from sun-washed backgrounds in yellow to cool-toned nocturnal scenes. In each, there’s a dance occurring, and there’s a mixture of tension and delight in numerous esoteric plots and sub-plots that are only comprehensible to Dzama. If you look closely, you’ll find walking fruits, mice in suits, foxes in bow ties, and other fantastical creatures, including a guest appearance by Pinocchio in one piece.

One of Dzama’s mosaics at the station’s Driggs Avenue exit
A second mosaic at the Driggs Avenue exit

So rich with detail, these mosaics require a level of attention seldomly afforded by the typically hurried commuters of New York City. On Wednesday morning, September 8, none were seen pausing to admire the artworks or try to untangle their mystery. Stopping any of them for an interview felt like it would be a rude, unforgivable interruption of their day.

The only individuals who were available for an interview were two NYPD officers — last names Marcelle and Jaquiz — who were stationed inside the entrance at the corner of Bedford Avenue and North 7th Street. Their job, as we know, includes enforcing the controversial policy of ticketing turnstile jumpers. Nevertheless, they had plenty of time to inspect the pair of mosaics in front of them.

A detail of one of Marcel Dzama mosaics
Detail from another mosaic

“I like this one because it reminds me of summer,” said Marcelle in a moment of candor after inquiring me about my intentions. He was referring to a piece that shows the sun and moon in a cheek-to-cheek pose, almost kissing.

Fully armed and with handcuffs dangling from her waist, Jaquiz approached me with a stern face, then pointed at the same mosaic and interrogated: “What does this mean?”

I pleaded the fifth, knowing that logical interpretation of Dzama’s works is a futile pursuit. The best you can do is join the ride.

“It reminds me of summer,” said an NYPD officer about one of the artworks

Depends on who’s doing the subverting.

As funding organizations prioritize participatory public art processes and creative engagement, we might look George Rhoads’s corpus as an instigator of engagement.

Both The Lost Leonardo and Savior for Sale dig into how museums and galleries are not merely complicit with the unregulated art-industrial complex, but are necessary to it.

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