Dana Schutz is a rare phenomenon. Her work emerged in 2000 straight from Columbia College art department, fully-formed, in a distinctive style perfectly balancing conceptual rigor with an individual magic. These elements add up to a market that has thrown itself at the feet of this young New York painter. Schutz’s paintings were the highlight of the prestigious Greater New York 2005 exhibition and features in the Saatchi Gallery’s Triumph of Painting, Part 3 exhibition in London (4 Nov–5 Feb). Despite the hullabaloo, Schutz is a fascinating artist and her exhibition at CFA in Berlin is only further proof of this.
For this show, Schutz expands on her now signature style—meta-narrative painting—which places her in the position of evil god in her fictitious, metaphysical universe, and therefore as important as everything she creates. Earlier examples of this included Frank, a character invented purely for her to trap and torture on his own little painted island. She also conjured a race of people who eat themselves.
The repertoire of fictional characters has now expanded to include people from the real world. So the first figure one sees on entering the gallery space in Berlin is, on careful inspection, a naked and dead Michael Jackson. The neatly piled red shirt and white socks say it all. Schutz has even taken the trouble to give the fallen king of pop a two tonal penis, a bizarre fact reported by the Los Angeles police after his 1993 arrest.
The gallery of individuals from ‘the real world’ painted into this new work also includes Bill Gates taking part in a strange tribal men’s retreat for corporate big wigs. Even the artist’s old landlord gets a morbid makeover. Another main departure is that her paint application has become thicker on parts of the canvas. And this is where Schutz’s magic really begins to work. This expressive build-up is unusual and makes her work vital and compelling.
The eyes of figures are occasionally sculpted so heavily that they look like golf balls. But where her painting style might be traced back to neo-expressionism, the catalogue text that accompanies the show compares the work musically to rock bands of the 1970’s such as Led Zeppelin, eschewing the influence of the techno-driven music so dominant today.
This is raucous, dark intelligent work. Hardhitting but exhuberently painted. It’s easy to see why Schutz is hitting the heights and why we’ll still be rocking to her hits 20 years down the line.
Cedar Lewisohn is a London-based artist and writer