Playmates of the Gods

The Gathering, 2023 Oil on canvas 108 x 252 inches

Dana Schutz: Jupiter's Lottery

Zwirner Gallery, 525 West 19th, NYC

Closes Dec 16th

Every Christmas, I wonder what I can keep and leave about the holiday. In poor Northern countries, it is still a time when you leave gifts of food and drink to help your neighbors get through the colder months. Some of its stories are a reminder of what's out there in the dark. Strewelpeter, the Rat King, the Grinch and Baba Yagar

Dana Schutz's show at David Zwirner is filled with mythic creatures. The Art World, maybe family members, and the public at large, all cast as grotesques. The paintings are humbling Hansel and Gretel, backdrop-sized. The sculptures are as massive as toys under a giant's tree. 

In "The Hill," characters appear to be on a horse or at least on the back of one. Mr Punch leans against a canvas of blood-red marks, wielding a whip. A bespectacled character carries a beheaded goose, and a woman carries a skull, which is, in turn, illuminated by a lamp held by another. A female figure paints a fire in ecstasy; a long-nosed character in a dressing gown has his wolf foot on a book.

It's a corpora of barely tangible forces. Clumps of flesh, wildly waving legs and arms. They look like Henry Holiday's illustrations for "The Hunting of the Snark," and Edward Lear's drawings have been put in a blender with colored goop.

The paintings are littered with props. They must be allegories or symbols, but there are a lot of them, and I'm not given to reading paintings this much. I want them to open up in front of me in a picturesque way rather than illustrating a point. 

The female figure in "The Gathering" is abstracted in pretzel fresh dough and posed behind a velvet rope; behind her is a brood of grotesque males. One is sitting at a table holding down a sliver of film. On the other side of this huge canvas, an old man sits in a director's chair, and behind him, the head rolls off a guru. 

The over-elucidations are according to a script that I don't understand. Is porn bad, but the backroom boys don't care? Is the figure the artist, twisting in the wind while the kids look on? 

"Won't someone please think of the children!"*

I went to look at Beckman for comparison. No matter how small his pieces are on my phone, the composition holds together. Schutz's sometimes don't; her characters frequently disappear into a brown sludge only leavened by luscious oily strokes. It looks like hesitation more than design, but perhaps it's meant to represent areas of thinking where things fall apart the way they do in dreams. 

But in the sculptures, this doesn't happen. It's as if a small part of a painting has been plucked out, maybe only one or two figures. But now they are extant and visible all the way around. The play between sludge and poppy colors is gone, but now everything is rounded and more physical in blackened bronze.

Large Model, 2022, Bronze 90-3/4 x 59-3/4 x 48 inches

The chopped-and-screwed look of the paintings is now unbelievably solid. The pallet stroke, the shoveled-up, cut-up shards rendered in clay have a just-made quality. They spring from the head of Jupiter. 

After going back a few times, I found that the paintings began to act as backdrops for these magnificent sculptures. Shutz's fairy tale figures are full of invention, but they come alive when they step out of the frame.

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