A profusion of vibrant colour and fractured form, Elevator (2017) exemplifies Dana Schutz’s glorious brand of painterly breakdown. Flailing limbs, flushed faces and contorted bodies rush to fill an elevator compartment. Its metallic doors are closing in, framing the picture with claustrophobic urgency. Ants, mayflies and a gargantuan stag beetle and cicada join the melee, their carapaces glinting among the tangle of fluorescent clothing. One man bends to pick up scraps of paper from the floor; a hand grips an ankle near the ceiling; a fallen gramophone threatens to block the door. Schutz’s brushwork fragments objects and bodies into bold, geometric planes, structuring all this chaos with crystalline painterly logic. Like many of her pictures, Elevator depicts a subject likely never before tackled in paint, conjuring an escapist, humorous vision of reality rebuilt before our eyes. A related work, Fight in an Elevator (2015), is a promised gift to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Schutz pulls her ideas from pop culture, art history, current events and the realms of private daydream. ‘Although the paintings themselves are not specifically narrative,’ she has said, ‘I often invent imaginative systems and situations to generate information. These situations usually delineate a site where making is a necessity, audiences potentially don’t exist, objects transcend their function and reality is malleable’ (D. Schutz, quoted at https://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/dana_schutz.htm). With its riot of people, insects and objects bent, resized and crammed into the canvas, the present work’s crowded elevator is just such a setting. Schutz’s paint has a sensual, metamorphic magic, and what might have been an everyday scene takes on a fantastical grandeur.
Resourceful and omnivorous, Schutz’s other human subjects have included people sneezing, giving birth, or eating their own faces: products of what the artist David Salle has called ‘a kind of “what if–ness”’. Elevator exhibits the same formal audacity, finding something wonderful in a place unexplored by art and unburdened by cliché. ‘These decidedly un-narcissistic images of humanity’, Salle writes, ‘are not bleak or overly critical; they’re not particularly shocking or cruel. They have the look of feelings made external. They give a sense of the great freedom of mind at the core of painting, the exhilaration of it’ (D. Salle, ‘Dana Schutz’, Artforum, December 2011).