Saturday, December 17, 2011

If the "Face Eater" had Wheels

If the "Face Eater" had wheels I'd roll it right out of the Neuberger Museum of Art and replace it with another of the artists paintings.  Dana Schutz is exhibiting a selection of paintings and drawings that she created within the past 10 years at SUNY Purchase titled "If the Face had Wheels".  The show unfortunately ends tomorrow.  I took a trip to see her work a few weeks ago and I left the show with a greater appreciation of her work.  I knew of her only through friends, magazine articles, and video interviews on You Tube.  Dana is no doubt a great painter; the color she uses, the brushwork, and her rendering ability display a virtuosity of technique that not many painters can match.

How We Would Give Birth by Dana Schutz
"How We Would Give Birth" is an excellent example of what Dana is capable of.  For once her brilliance of technique is put to good use.  She creates a moody atmosphere with her choice of colors that resonates with the mystery and sadness of the subject.  In this piece I don't sense that Dana is giggling to herself while she worked on it.  "How We Would Give Birth" is void of the kind of silliness that we find in works like "Frank As A Proboscis Monkey".  However, the only element in this painting that prevents me from really loving this work is the baby's black button like eye.  It's the only dab of paint that I would alter in this painting.  With a single black dot she deletes the humanity in the painting and turns it into something alien.

Presentation by Dana Schutz
Dr. Heinrich Stadelmann by Otto Dix
Dana is an extraordinary painter but her work isn't my cup of tea.  She's a magician and a comedian.  Her work is superficially interesting but it doesn't have the authenticity and believability that it takes to allow the me to enter into her work and make it my own.  True, her virtuosity of technique and odd subject matter are enough to hold my gaze, but those qualities cannot hold open my heart (which is the chakra all art must pass through).

The cartoonish quality of paintings such as "Presentation" divert our attention away from the gruesome subject matter.  We don't actually believe that she witnessed an autopsy.  It isn't Dana's priority nor her capacity to make expressionistic art.  Her work makes light of the grotesque.  There is a distance between her subjects and her emotions and its this quality that perhaps truly makes her work grotesque.

In comparison, the Otto Dix show at Neue Galerie in 2010 which was also full of vulgar, disturbing, degenerate imagery, approached the grotesque from an insider's point of view.  His work was much more violent and difficult to look at.  Dix's work is not as colorful and cute as Dana's paintings... so how did Otto get so many people to love his work?  Some people I'm sure are attracted to it because of historical significance (he volunteered to fight in the trenches of WWI for Germany), or mastery of technical skill... or perhaps his audience likes the challenge of stomaching the gruesome images he painted of war.  But I think people love Otto Dix's art because it unashamedly expresses psychological, emotional, and physical suffering... the kinds of feelings most people try to forget about and/or feel ashamed of.  His work reveals to us these haunting wounds in such an unpretentious and unselfconscious manner.

Dana Schutz's treatment of the grotesque is more akin to George Condo, who had an exhibition of his work at the New Museum in NY earlier this year.  I regret not going to see his work... I almost can't forgive myself.  Anyway,  the disconcerting nature of Condo's work is like Schutz's on steroids.  But again, Condo and Schutz are more grotesque than Dix's work precisely because they make it humorous and absurd.  You won't find anything funny about Dix's series of war prints or his treatment of prostitutes and crippled war veterans.  His paintings are explicitly and brutally realistic, but there isn't a stroke of his brush that is not sincere.  And it is precisely this sincerity and/or conviction that Dix paints with that separates his art from that of the fantastical work of Condo's and Schutz.
Screaming Priest by George Condo
Face Eater by Dana Schutz

Dana has a wild imagination and offers us some creative insights into painting.  But I can't say much more about works like "The Sneeze" and "Face Eater" other than that they're "cool".  Yet all in all, Dana is a terrific painter.  I love the size of her work.  I love her drawings.  And I love a few of her works.  No doubt whatever she's doing, she's doing it well.

No comments:

Post a Comment