As a child making home videos, Marcel Dzama, 49, asked his father and sister to cover their faces with masks because they couldn’t stop grinning. Best known today for his ink-and-watercolor drawings, the Canadian artist continues to use masks in his dreamlike work, including in his first performance, “To Live on the Moon (For Lorca),” a tribute in music, film and dance to the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. Commissioned by New York’s Performa Biennial, which runs until Nov. 19, the presentation sends a procession of masked characters into the aisles of Abrons Arts Center’s theater on the Lower East Side.
The collection: Handmade masks, in materials ranging from paper to wood to cloth.
Number of pieces in the collection: Around 250.
First purchase: “When I was 8, my grandma went to Hawaii and asked what I wanted. I said, ‘A mask.’ It was made out of ceramic and had a happy face on one side and a sad face on the other. It got destroyed in a fire in my parents’ house in Winnipeg in 1996, so later I recreated it.”
Last purchase: “I just got this fabric patterned one from the 1920s at a Brooklyn flea market for around $40 for the artist Mamma Andersson. I’ve been sending her masks because she likes to paint them.”
Most expensive: “Probably these 40 wooden masks from Guadalajara [in Mexico]. I was working at the ceramics factory of a friend, José Noé Suro Salceda, whose brother had been killed years earlier. José inherited his mask collection, but he couldn’t look at it because he felt too sad. So I traded him about 10 drawings and some photographs for it.”
Weirdest: “The weirder the better for me. I got this Michael Jackson one in Hong Kong from a street vendor who sells rubber masks outside David Zwirner gallery.”
Most precious: “My 11-year-old son made this bird mask. He used feathers we found on Long Island and took apart a tambourine and used the little cymbals for the eyeballs.”
Latest favorite: “I made a cast of an alien mask that I bought on the street. For the Performa film, we needed a head to explode. We filled it with condoms full of spaghetti and chocolate sauce and broke it by dropping a watermelon painted like the moon on top. It’ll make sense in the movie.”
Most coveted: “The Surrealist poet André Breton had these really beautiful, intricate African masks in his office. I’d pick one of those.”
Other collections: “When I moved to New York from Winnipeg in 2004, I sold my record collection. I thought that would be the end of it but, a year later, I had practically bought them all again.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.