Blog post revisiting Steven Litt's 2007 profile of painter Dana Schutz republished on the occasion of Schutz's exhibition Fight in an Elevator at Petzel Gallery, New York.
The exhibition press release notes that "Schutz’s figures are placed within compressed interiors where they are forced to struggle against the boundaries of their painted environments and up onto the physical edge of the canvas. Her characters find themselves helpless in the mouth of a lion, exchanging blows in a mirrored elevator, or somnambulating down a narrow staircase. These highly structured spaces, which are both intensely public and utterly private, point to how Schutz tackles the subject of interiority—rather than offering a voyeuristic view, her frontal facing subjects stare directly back at the viewer, seemingly with the desire to extend outside of themselves."
I’ve been writing these September round-ups for a few years now, and I’ve almost always prefaced them with some note of astonishment at the sheer amount of abstract painting I was seeing in the galleries. I usually followed that with a reminder of just how little of it there was in the 90s and most of the naughties. But I’m making a few little changes starting now.
Painting has been back in the limelight long enough that those reminiscences are starting to become distant memories, war stories of a kind that make my painter friends under 40 glaze over – what the hell do they care about the days when everyone thought Matthew Barney was God and the Biennial was a series of video booths that resembled a peep show? Like my young friends who didn’t live through that, I’m just going to look back on it with a shrug, if at all.
The other small change is that I want to discuss some painting that isn’t strictly abstract. I’ve been seeing more loopy figures and semi-abstractions that interest me, and it just makes sense to broaden the discussion – it’s all painting after all.
So without further ado, here are some of the painting exhibitions that stood out from the crush of openings in NYC in September:
Maggie Gray reviews an exhibition of paintings by Dana Schutz at The Hepworth Wakefield, on view through January 26, 2014.
Gray writes that Schutz's "most effective works communicate that feeling with a sort of slapstick immediacy, felt rather than told. It’s not clear how the figure ‘Getting dressed all at once’ has found herself in such a tangle, but it’s easy to appreciate her dull-eyed exasperation, her testy contortions, and the synthetic drag of the clothes. Schutz's mute figures inspire empathy in the way a mime artist or silent comedian might: through a series of disarmingly vulnerable moments, self-consciously, farcically over-performed."
Dana Schutz comments on her recent paintings which are on view at The Hepworth Wakefield through January 26, 2014.
Schutz comments: "Painting has many acts that are put together as one. My exhibition at the Hepworth revolves around canvases that show figures demonstrating simple actions as vehicles for painting. There’s one painting, for instance, where a woman is getting dressed all at once—a very difficult subject to paint. She makes eye contact with the viewer and the stopping point is her gaze. There is usually a frontal address in painting, but it doesn’t always have to be aggressively physical. My process is akin to a rehearsal, where muscle memory is involved. It can almost be like building a house, where the series of marks are laid one on top of the other; if one mark doesn’t sit right, I’ll rebuild the whole thing from the bottom up. Or the process can feel like dancing, where there is a rhythm—a physical call and a response."
Priscilla Frank interviews painter Dana Schutz whose work will be on view at The Hepworth Wakefield from October 12, 2013 - January 26, 2014.
Schutz comments: "The new works, I think, are more open -- they involve more abstract, painterly gestures. The subjects have a lot to do with the last show, in that they are performing or demonstrating different actions and creating these sort of awkward situations. For example, in one painting there is a woman watching her friend sing and play guitar in a bedroom. I like the feeling of not knowing where to look when you are only performing for one person or watching someone practice. It creates this kind of a strange in-between, which can be mirrored in the feeling of making a painting. I was drawing and redrawing the image on the canvas beforehand and it really feels as if you are rehearsing the image. There was a lot of wiping things out, making sure I got the gesture just right."
Patrick Neal reports on the recent panel discussion “… towards meaning in a plural painting world,” moderated by Katy Siegel at Hunter College. The panel including Raphael Rubinstein, Merlin James, Dana Schutz, Richard Shiff, and moderator Siegel, set out to: "examine the condition of painting in its contemporary context... [to] discuss whether the current plurality in painting dilutes meaning, or if it is just a case of many people doing many interesting things. How do we advance meaning given the plethora of dispersed, diverse, yet all seemingly functional approaches? Is the basic idea of advancement even a useful paradigm anymore? These issues will be explored with the aim of presenting a more critical dialogue about work made with paint."
Neal notes that "A consensus emerged that painting’s intrinsic qualities, as an infinitely plastic medium, are what give it strength. Shiff mentioned how close painting is to thinking, a very immediate process that is hand and body oriented but can also assimilate other technologies. Because its mechanics are so simple, painting allows for tremendous inventive freedom, and may for that reason be spawning so many of the hybrid offerings we have today. He mentioned R.H. Quaytman as an example of a painter maintaining an ongoing historical dialogue while broaching new ground as well. Likewise, James mentioned the artist Soutine, whose work could be perceived as political, but those passions are subsumed into the warp and weft of his paint handling."
Jarrett Earnest interviews painter Dana Schutz about her work on the occasion of the exhibition Dana Schutz: Piano in the Rain at Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York, on view through June 16, 2012.
Schutz comments: "This idea that narrative is 'bad' might be a leftover from Modernism; a notion that narrative is 'kitschy,' too illustrative, or literary, but people might also not want to deal with other people's 'stuff.' Colors and flat planes, no matter how subjective they are, are perhaps easier to take than, say, a painting of someone's mom. However, I think a sense of place, character, and event can happen simultaneously with the kind of singular, big-impact read of an abstract painting. Alex Katz's paintings do this perfectly. To make a painting with people and things is not just 'subjective whatever-ness.' It's who we are and where we come from and can parallel the world, not just in a fictional or allegorical way, but also structurally. And paintings and images can feel so real! They can act as agents in the world."
Kalm writes: "With this exhibition, the artist appears to be thinning down her paint, exercising a more virtuosic and slippery brush stroke, and striving for a fresher and more spontaneous style. Melding a goofy figuration with painterly abstraction, viewers are given a choice to appreciate the narrative or the process with which these pictures are fabricated."
Sarah Kirk Hanley writes about the exhibition Götterdämmerung at the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Gallery Met, New York, on view through May 12, 2012.
Kirk Hanley writes: "Schutz’s own extravagantly creative and somewhat outlandish imagination, as well as her exuberantly gestural style, is well-matched to Wagner's outsized narrative and grandiloquent score. Yet the artist took the assignment as a general guideline, noting, '…I worked only loosely from the themes in Götterdämmerung. Most of the images came from drawings in the studio. After drawing for many hours you start to forget the story and focus on the specifics of how to make an image work. I hadn’t seen the production at the Met Opera before I started making the work so that made it easier to imagine what these characters could look like and be doing' "
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.