Dana Schutz at Zach Feuer
Art in America, June-July, 2005 by Eleanor Heartney
In the recent paintings of Dana Schutz (all 2004), jarring, hothouse colors laid down in broad, overlapping strokes provide a perfect match for dystopic, even apocalyptic, themes of dismemberment, blood lust and self-mutilation. She mixes expressionist histrionics, fauvist excess and symbolist misanthropy in paintings of sylvan landscapes and domestic interiors that deliberately subvert the idyllic tranquility normally associated with such settings. Despite the fact that Schutz borrows voraciously and often quite consciously from a diverse collection of modernist painters, the end results are strikingly original.
For instance, in Civil Planning a pair of female figures sit in the foreground under a stand of trees through which one can glimpse another figure in the distance. The scene has vague echoes of Manet's Dejeuner sur l'herbe. However, closer examination reveals body parts scattered around the picture, a weird purple monster off to the side and, in the background, a little vignette of a crowd of naked figures dragging a body. The two girls in the foreground are building a rock tower, apparently oblivious to the surrounding chaos, suggesting perhaps that creators need not indulge themselves in human sympathy.
Another painting, Party, inspired by Guston's highly satiric painting of Richard Nixon, lampoons the Bush cabinet. In a Deposition-like composition, we see a prone figure--identified by the artist as John Ashcroft--being carried by other figures whose bodies coalesce into an almost indistinguishable tangle. Trailing electric cords and hoods, echoing the KKK masks in Guston's work, here evoke the torture photographs from Abu Ghraib.
In other images, figures explode, devour themselves or sort through body parts. A few paintings offer single figures. Panic presents a huge bug-eyed face featuring a gaping maw with giant yellowed teeth into which this creature has forced its own bloody hand. The style of the paintings adds to the sense of chaos and dissolution. Luminous brushstrokes butt up against each other, or invade other forms to such an extent that, at times, it is difficult to delineate separate objects or figures. One has the sense of a universe in flux, not through gentle mutation but by abrupt movements that shift the configuration of things, as when a kaleidoscope is given a rough shake.
Despite the gruesome activities performed by some of her subjects, Schutz keeps the proceedings strangely cheerful. Her characters are as humorous as they are grotesque, suggesting that the apocalypse might be more comical than horrific.
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COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group