Critics’ Picks

Dana Schutz, Fight in an Elevator 2, 2015, oil on canvas, 96 x 90".

Dana Schutz, Fight in an Elevator 2, 2015, oil on canvas, 96 x 90".

New York

Dana Schutz

Petzel Gallery | West 18th Street
456 West 18th Street
September 10–October 24, 2015

A broadly accepted metonym for claustrophobia and unwanted social confrontation, the elevator receives top billing in Dana Schutz’s new series, “Fight in an Elevator,” 2015 (a title to which one could aptly add “and Variations on a Theme”). In energetic, large-scale paintings and smaller black-and-white (though no less vibrant) drawings, the artist trains her acerbic eye on the phenomenon of tight spaces and how people—specifically, Schutz’s misshapen, often deranged characters—deal with them. Where Schutz’s past works have long explored various surreal state-of-being narratives, these new pictures capture the melancholy and innate humor of daily life and its small dramas as they are often perceived by individuals—that is, magnified to cinematic proportions. Compressed within tight, straight-line spacial boundaries, the characters push against their surroundings. In Slow Motion Shower (all works cited, 2015), a woman’s bathtub, shower curtain, and rigid tiles become a comical trap: her oversize limbs amble around the small space as she struggles to wipe soap from her eyes. Meanwhile, the single woman in As Normal as Possible gives a goofy grimace through the circular spotlight of a police car’s headlamp, besieged by the light. And there are two elevator fights (Fight in an Elevator and Fight in an Elevator 2), each buttressed by half-open elevator doors revealing a crowded quagmire inside.

Painted with swift, wet-on-wet brushstrokes in bold, principally primary colors, Schutz’s new works convey the turn-of-the-century vigor of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, while her compositions combine the rigid architectural lines and animated physicality of Mexican muralism with Red Grooms’s sense of ambling caricature. The quintessential weirdness of Schutz’s usual characters gives way here to a more homogenized tribe. While this series lacks the liquid, fishbowl-like denseness and shimmering figure-ground dynamics that make her previous output so satisfying, the works on view succeed as investigative accounts of the banal gone awry—as if Schutz has stepped from the psychological toward the situational.