When Edvard Munch created "The Scream" in 1893, it became a symbol for modern anxiety. Munch's pale-faced protagonist is in agony, while the blood-red sky swirls around him to reinforce the horror. Today our image-immune systems have been beefed up and "The Scream" is not as bloodcurdling as it once was. Dana Schutz's works are here to bring back that stomach-churning sense of vertigo with a vengeance.
Schutz's exhibition "Piano in the Rain" features her signature tropes of excess, taboo and mayhem, yet this time with a layer of sadness underneath. You get the sense her characters, though ultimately grotesque, are trying. They are trying to connect, to impress, to perform, for you the viewer. Like the persistent piano player, hunched over in the rain, Schutz's characters possess an over-the-top desperation. The sad part is it only makes them more unappealing.
Part "Guernica" and part Funfetti, Schutz's language of painting is as chaotic and widespread as her narrative content. Critics have compared her to Paul Gauguin, the German Expressionists, George Condo and Ryan Trecartin... and they're all right. Schutz' oil paintings, carved and sculpted with scrapers, squeegees and oil crayons, regurgitate art history while remaining a stylistic "wild card," to quote Jerry Saltz. Even her bold color choices are a calamity in themselves; the bright, clashing colors are as eager to please as the forms they constitute.
"Piano in the Rain" imbues bizarre scenarios with a personal intimacy. One character looks both like a monster and an over-tanned suburban neighbor who keeps offering you snacks. Her series of women yawning is particularly striking, however. In these positions, a woman yawning begins to look like she may be trying to make herself vomit, or even trying to eat her own hand. (This is not all too surprising coming from the artist behind the exhibition titled, "Self Eaters.")
This time around, Schutz's signature bizarre, taboo-eating chaos has a sentimental underbelly. Through viewing these images, we are left feeling turned off, pitying and guilty all at once. The paintings -- dare we say it -- provoke far more anxiety than Munch ever could.
"Piano in the Rain" will show at Friedrich Petzel Gallery in New York until June 16.