Dana Schutz and a World of Anxiety

Petzel “Imagine Me and You”, January 10 – February 23, 2019

“Treadmill” (2018) 94”x 88

After conversations with other painters about this show, the consensus seemed to be admiration for Schutz’s work as a whole, for the energy and ambition and the mad rush of it—and not so much about individual paintings, what they are about, their effect on the viewer, etc.
I may be missing something, but I can only get into a painter’s work through an individual painting—which has happened with Dana Schutz—but wouldn’t you know it, it was the Emmett Till painting that so many people said she wasn’t entitled to paint. That painting evoked emotions: grief and fury about the insane cruelty of human behavior. Open Casket was also relatively small and carefully composed and painted—it was atypical.

Treadmill seems so inconsequential comparatively; it epitomizes our stupid, stupid era, where people run in gyms on machines that use fossil fuels, obsessed with their own health, listening to their own music, fleeing what exactly? Wouldn’t it be better if they went outside and joined the human race where their personal problems might be put into perspective?
The paintings as a whole look much better online but online you can’t see the amazing moments of painting. In Treadmill it is the forward white tennis shoe—how’d she do that? But ‘why is she directing my attention to it?’ comes to mind too.


“The Visible World” (2018) 108”x 140”

I don’t know what to make of The Visible World. Is it a female Prometheus and an attacking seagull? But why the raspberry? The chest heaves, a motion not at all continued in the legs and lower torso which are limp. Two arms point, did she forget to erase the third? Does the ship come to the rescue? The claymation eyes are fearfully staring, but almost all of the eyes in the show are. Since this was the first painting I looked at, I tried to figure it out. Later I stopped doing that.


“Washing Monsters” (2018) 94” x 87”

Ted Loos in the NYT (*) says Shutz offers her “signature scenes of anxiety and mayhem.” *

I see the anxiety. The mayhem, not so much.
My impression of her earlier work is that everything was in motion. If everything is up in the air, then everything will at least fall—the image is part of a changing world. In the earlier work too, the images had a transparent comic 2D animation effect.
These images are fixed, sculptural and centered on the canvas.

Those ubiquitous opaque eyes are very dominant. One reviewer compared them to the eyes of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Actually the eyes in Demoiselles are transparent and quite varied in their expressions. Demoiselles is about the same size as The Visible World; Picasso made over a hundred sketches for it.

I googled “anxiety.” It is classified as a feeling and feelings are mental responses to emotions. One definition of anxiety is that it is a mask for other emotions that are too hard to face. Emotions are physical and can be shared. Emotions are fleeting: Joy is a moment, Fear can be realized or dissipate, Anger may spend itself wreaking havoc, demanding justice or change to forgiveness, even Grief has stages. Anxiety just goes on and on.

No question, it is hard for the sufferer. It is hard on other people too—it would be so much easier to deal with if any of us were completely sane.



*     https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/09/arts/design/dana-schutz-painting-emmett-till-petzel-gallery.html