Text by Heike Wollenweber
Dana Schutz (b. 1976) has developed a distinctive visual style characterised by vibrant colour and raw and tactile brushwork. If the Face Had Wheels is a survey of the artist’s work (spanning 2001 – 2011) that includes 30 paintings and 12 drawings, inviting viewers to enter into a world where fantasy and humour meet horror. Not an absurd question for Schutz. Her art is intense, ambivalent, bright and happy but with a grotesque and disturbing side, often based on hypothetical situations in fictional spaces such as Gravity Fanatic (2005), which depicts a woman reinforcing the existing gravity, therefore rendering her venture pointless.
The exhibition opens with Sneeze (2001), a painting capturing the feeling of a sneeze rather than just the visual image of someone sneezing. Sneeze, exemplifies Schutz’s penchant for creating art out of every day life. Schutz’s art evokes feelings, often very conflicting feelings, as her paintings are at first glance very bright and happy but upon further inspection the humour in her work often mixes with a feeling of discomfort or horror. The ambiguous feeling left thereafter is what makes Schutz’s work so intense and strong. Her paintings are powerful and reveal deeper meanings, additional ways of interpretation and intricate visual layers every time one engages in the work.
Schutz’s paintings are detailed and thick layers of oil paint lend a sculptural appearance. Her art has been described as disturbing, compelling and bizarre and indeed, it is all of those things because she manages to represent what adults in her age group have experienced. Inspired by real life Schutz’s art comments on life in the US in the new millennium as her generation moved from stability to uncertainty and anxiety caused by the recession.
The compelling art of Schutz depicts the life of her generation with a dose of subculture and the music of her time. The paintings Her Arms (2003), the The Autopsy of Michael Jackson (2005) and The Breeders (2002) are all based on musicians. The Breeders, depicts indie rock duo Kim and Kelley Deal built from two halves of body parts of Schutz’s fictional character “Frank”, the last man on Earth as envisioned by the artist.
“Frank” is a central character in many of Schutz’s paintings such as Frank On A Rock (2002), Frank as a Proboscis Monkey (2002) and Reclining Nude (2002) in which Frank seems to pose for the artist in the style of conventional art but with an attitude of carelessness, somehow unaware of his status as the one keeping the human race in existence.
Body parts can be seen in many of Schutz’s paintings. Characters eat their own eyes (Eye Eater (2004)) and facial matter (Face Eater (2004)) or look upon a collection of noses, feet and arms to choose from as in Twin Parts (2004). The devouring of the body and self-eating essentially reflects upon a thought process of remaking and recycling. The artist draws a relation to art as there are limitless possibilities of reconstruction and new creations only eradicated as art if the process is based solely on survival. Schutz seems fascinated with the destruction and re-assemblage of not only the human body but also society and the artist engages in current affairs, changes and the future of humanity in her work and body parts take on secondary meanings relating to society structures.
The How We Would… series, conceived as the artist’s depiction of the present serves as a time capsule of sorts for future generations. Included in this series are How We Would Give Birth (2007) and How We Would Talk (2007), ironically a woman in a phone booth, a device already antique in the era and culture in which the piece was created.
Dana Schutz’s most influential work relates to everyday life with an absurd spin as in her Tourettes and Verbs series paintings Swimming, Smoking, Crying and Shaking, Cooking, Peeing. To sum up her exhibition If The Face Had Wheels Schutz could add another painting: “Thinking, Laughing, Gasping”, simultaneous shock and awe.
Dana Schutz: If the Face Had Wheels, 15/01/2012 – 26/02/2012, Miami Art Museum, 101 W Flagler Street, Miami. www.miamiartmuseum.org