The Id Girl
Dana Schutz at Shaheen
Painting, painterly painting that is, can be an extravagantly inclusive mix of philosophy, step
aerobics and food fight. The wide world wades onto the canvas, from shit to palm fronds,
chutney and toe shoes; toddler antics combine with the vast, turbulent prehistory of the race.
Such works are lumpy with personality, glazed though they may be with the pale cast of
thought. Dana Schutz' newest paintings, on view this month at Shaheen Modern and
Contemporary Art, are all that. A recent showing at LFL Gallery in New York's Chelsea district
drew high praise from critics at Flash Art and the Village Voice. At twenty-six, mere months
after her graduation from Columbia's MFA program, Schutz has her paint-stained running
shoes poised on the fast track of budding international stardom. It couldn't happen to a nicer
I first encountered a number of Schutz canvases in 2001, scattered along cubicle walls at the
Cleveland Institute of Art's factory building. The artist had just completed her BFA and was
packing up for the stint at Columbia. I'd come that day to look at a friend's work, but lingered,
lightly drooling, in front of Dana's paintings. There were little ones and fairly big ones, sort of
landscapes, portraits and still lifes, but not exactly. They were too full of questions about
identity to refer in any definite way to persons, places, or things.
I saw paint, squeezed and dumped, camped out in vaguely realistic, lightly brushy spaces.
The difference between these two states of paint was in large part the subject. They were,
then, paintings about painting - or not. Paintings at once dubious about painting and
enthused about paint. They were mad science in a way, balefully successful experiments, in
vitro perhaps but strangely alive.
In the months after Schutz went to New York, reports trickled in: Dana was in an important
show at PS.1/MOMA. Dana had a solo show in New York, another in LA at Roberts and Tilton
Gallery. Dana was reviewed everywhere. To no one's great surprise, Dana was turning out to
be hot stuff.
Her studio is in a building on 12th Avenue, shadowed by an elevated portion of the West Side
Highway. I chose the coldest New York day in decades to visit. It was freezing inside, too, as
we trudged up the stairs and along a corridor toward Dana's jumbled second-floor working
area. She appeared from behind a canvas, smiling abstractly, black trash bag in hand,
auburn curls massed like the frantic lines of an au courant drawing. Painters and their
paintings can be like dogs and their owners, sharing quirks across an existential gulf. With
Schutz, the grin, the talk, the rumpled jeans and tousled hair parallel her imagery and
brushstrokes - mongrel, bumptious, winsome and stray.
Tubes of paint were everywhere, snatches of things and half-full coffee containers.
Everything on the walls was spanking new, some of it still wet. A big, yellowish canvas
depicted a bucket of colorful, unrecognizable rubbish; something that looked like a walking
stick obtruded, and something else that resembled a human bone. Against the opposite wall
another big, dark blue work featured a weak-chinned, skinny male figure rendered in black;
he tinkered with a color-studded machine by the shore of a lake. Above, myriad star-spots
twinkled around an eggy moon. Then there was a small painting of a stump studded with
knives, and another showing the horizontal head and torso of a woebegone young man, the
same figure as in the large blue painting.
Dana's most recent show at LFL Gallery was called Frank From Observation. The newer
works now at Shaheen continue the saga of Frank's anomic tribulations. In the Frank
paintings Dana imagines a significant Other, but in a twisted way - like, if Jacques Derrida had
a teddy bear, what would he do to it? Schutz says she originally imagined this guy as a sort of
boyfriend, more for her friends than for herself; possibly she was thinking Rousseau, a noble
savage of sorts. But the character that has emerged from paint and unconscious has a reality
TV-type fecklessness. He's a weakest link, and a bit of a jackass, stranded somewhere under
Survivor-like conditions. Frank is lost, and Schutz observes his activities with vaguely amused
detachment, like a less sympathetic Jane Goodall, or like a child with a pet. She seems to be
painting a home video, starring The Id as Frank.
Dana Schutz is, obviously, a painter to watch, as she and her private realities evolve or
devolve, flesh/paint bubbling with supercharged aesthetic DNA. It's intriguing, exciting, and
damn peculiar. What's next, what weird painting will we find popped in the VCR? The
expressive possibilities of paint continue their improbable course, despite doubt and
(angle: a journal of arts and culture, 2003, issue 1)