Dana Schutz: DANA SCHUTZ Fight in an Elevator

Article:  DANA SCHUTZ Fight in an Elevator


"In her twelve new paintings currently on view at Petzel’s Chelsea location, Dana Schutz surprises her audience yet again with exuberant pictures that simultaneously depart from, and are consistent with, her previous work. Narrative, humor, and saturated color remain tantamount, and her figures’ faces still look as if they’ve been made from Sculpey. In this new body of work, though, she constructs more dynamic spaces in order to deliver her wonky narratives. Space becomes a substitute for time, allowing us to glimpse a bustling scene or to observe multiple, concurrent moments colliding and overlapping across her large canvases.

In a 2012 interview in the Rail, Schutz described the complexity of narrative in painting: “It’s interesting to think how narrative works in a painting—it’s not dictated in real time, but it does have its own time. So you can read the painting and it can unfold, but in a slightly different way for everyone. Because paintings are typically still, it’s awkward to think of them as time-based.”1 Media like film and novels string together moments to create a narrative. It occurs over time, offers causality, and predetermines a set viewing speed. Paintings, as Schutz points out, are “typically still,” showing a singular moment, a frozen present, rather than a story that involves past, present, and future.

In her pre-2012 work, the magical weirdness of her fantastical vignettes occurred in a fictional yet recognizable world populated by recognizably human characters. They were mostly unaware of the viewer and engaged in horrific activities, like eating their own faces. Schutz also maintained a clear distinction between figure and ground in her compositions, and continues to work in this mode intermittently. In the hilarious, and completely accurate, Swiss Family Traveling(2015), Schutz places her subject in a familiar context, still delineating figure (a family with roller bag and map) from ground (airport). Larger than life, they stand close to the edge of the picture plane, and the airport recedes in deep space behind. When Schutz prioritizes her figures, we focus on the interpersonal relationships, rather than the places they inhabit: the disinterested mom, the stunned son, the sulky teenage girl, and the confrontational character who looms behind.

In the earliest and largest painting in the show, Assembling an Octopus (2013), Schutz abandons any consistent perspectival structure and intentionally blurs figure-ground relationships to incorporate unlikely, concurrent situations. By painting this picture wet-on-wet, Schutz suggests that random, unrelated actions all occur at the same time, at the same densely crowded beach. All portions of the painting feel equally important, especially because Schutz’s figures grow in size near the top of the canvas, completely eliminating any sense of receding, familiar space.

Schutz squeezes multiple vignettes together, her characters bumping into physical boundaries. A man steps over the sandbox’s wooden slats, which meet at unlikely angles in the bottom quadrant; students draw on the disjointed paper on easels, a doctor examines her patient’s tongue as a beach ball flies toward them; a young boy stares at a woman’s vagina. By cropping her figures and by blocking portions of the painting with the students’ drawings, Schutz creates a dynamic composition that allows us to navigate and connect a multiplicity of colliding, concurrent moments."  more at brooklynrail.org

Dana Schutz Taylor Collection Denver