Brooklyn-based artist Dana Schutz makes paintings which depict larger than life-size figures, involved in violent activities in impossible situations. Her gestural works feature deformed and flayed figures, mutilated bodies of people and animals, and imaginary creatures from a demented world. Her paintings reveal highly charged scenes of sensational actions through shattered multicolored compositional fields. She paints with wild imagery and vibrant colors in a style that resembles cartoon animation. While her paintings border on the grotesque or the ghoulish, they are softly atmospheric with few hard lines or sharp edges in them.
Schutz attended the Cleveland Art Institute and received her M.A. at Columbia University in 2002, the same year in which she had overnight success in her debut solo show, “Observation.” Her striking paintings were based on the conceit that Schutz was the last painter on earth and that her subject ‘Frank’ was the last man on earth. Totally naked and burnt by the sun, his whole body was pink and purple in scenes that were tinged with yellow, orange, pink, lime green, lavender, and red.
Her exuberant canvases depict grotesque, comic figures in acts of creativity or violence and frequently begin from imaginative premises, as in her “Self Eaters” 2004 . Schutz is well known for her 2005 work “The Presentation,” which is in New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s collection. It is a large-scale painting of spectators looking at an enormous person who is either being buried or exhumed – it is not clear which. She said that this painting was her attempt to comment on the U.S. government’s policy of not allowing images of dead American soldiers to be shown during the Iraq War.
In 2016, she painted the controversial “Open Casket” and had it shown in the 2017 Whitney Biennial. The response of the public was immediate and called for the painting to be removed. Its subject was the battered remains of Emmett Till, the fourteen-year-old boy who was beaten and lynched in Mississippi in 1955. His body was then thrown into a river by two white men. At his funeral in Chicago, his mother insisted on his casket being open to show people how horribly he had been beaten before being lynched. His face had lost almost all semblance of a face. And this is how Schutz painted him. She was castigated as a white woman artist, who had no right to paint the horrific event that ignited the Civil Rights Movement. She was accused of making this painting for money, and that was never the case. The painting was never for sale. Schutz said, “I don’t know what it is like to be black in America, but I do know what it is like to be a mother. Emmett was Mamie Till’s only son. The thought of anything happening to your child is beyond comprehension.” Whatever effect this work and its reception had on her, Schutz emerged a stronger and compelling artist.
Schutz has had solo exhibitions at the Cleveland Art Museum, ICA Boston, Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami Art Museum, Berlin’s Contemporary Fine Arts, and others.
Her work is in the permanent collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim, Whitney Museum of American Art, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and others.