This past April Dana Schutz had an exhibition of new paintings up at Zach Feuer Gallery in Chelsea. While the body of work as a whole had Schutz’s usual sense of playfulness, obsurdities and obvious love of painting, there was something different in the new work that I haven’t noticed from her previous work. By this I mean paintings that are blatantly about painting as much as the stylization of Schutz’s early work. Everything from a painting referencing an undergraduate art class painting from a model to purely abstract works and even references to other painters like Alice Neel and Da Vinci.
She gives us a new take on the most reproduced, appropriated and lampooned image in the western art canon, the Mona Lisa. In Schutz’s painting however the world has turned and we see our beloved Mona in profile, giving us a glimpse of lies beyond the frame of the original masterpiece. What at first could be seen as an obscure figurative abstraction takes on an entirely different context as soon as one looks at the title, “Mona”. Even the title changes the context of the original and presents a far more informal, yet personal association on first name basis with the mysterey woman, yet with hair covering her face she has become perhaps more obscured.
In other paintings such as “Male Model” and “Tom” I see what to me are obvious references to Alice Neel, the prior being her later more famous style and “Tom” bares resemblance to Neels early career works.
Then there are the two completely abstract pieces, “Cleveland” and “Abstract Model”, along with the more obvious, “How we would give birth”. This last painting portrays a woman giving birth, with the new born child’s head and arms exiting an exposed, bloody vagina. The mother however is more concerned with the landscape painting in a highly ornate gold frame on the bedside wall than her partially born child. While the reference to Painting and its history is obvious, this image still retains a degree of ambiguity to me. It can be read as perhaps a statement about the importance of art and culture in the nurturing and education of children, or a statement about art as distraction from what perhaps the artists feels are more important things in life.
Finally there is the monumental, “How we cured the plague”. Everything from its huge ten by twelve foot scale to its subject matter reference a long tradition of historical painting, but the most unique aspect of this painting when understood in the context of Schutz’s full body of work, is the dramatic depth of perspectival space. Never have her paintings been concerned with conventional, western one point perspective, as this painting clearly is. Even her pallette shifts push the background further away, showing off her chops in this supposedly archaic technique in painting.
Any one of these paintings isolated from the rest might not add up to much, but as I walked through the space I couldn’t help seeing the connection between them all; Painting itself, its history as well as the act and practice of it. For me what was most successful about this body of work, while I concede problems with individual pieces, was the infusion of this content within a stylization that has become easily identifiable as Schutz’s, and yet at the same time I didn’t feel she was making copies of herself and past successes. I felt growth and challenging of her own value system. These works seem to be questioning and championing these values simultaeneously.