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Dana Schutz

This solo show at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston—Dana Schutz’s first exhibition stateside since her controversial contribution to the 2017 Whitney Biennial—is distinguished by a shift toward compression. In the twenty-one displayed works, which span the past nine years, Schutz questions what it means to represent a subject in its entirety within a singular work. Tensions between wholeness and fracture manifest in a maximalist confessional mode. In the monumentally scaled Shaking Out the Bed, 2015, for instance, Schutz corrals domestic detritus in her portrait of a sleeping couple: A slice of pizza, a rolled-up newspaper, and a hammer are some of the few discernible items among the chaos. These minutiae interrupt the corporeal presence of the couple, which is indicated by a jumble of hair and distorted body parts. The artist’s tasks, it seems, are to contend with incompletion, and to mend breaches in a composition that may never resolve.

The paintings on view at ICA, though essentially figurative, are initially perceived by the viewer as allover abstracts. The eye, never at rest, skitters between fragments of illusory depth, frantic and sensuous brushstrokes, and colors as ludic as they are lurid. Together, these visual qualities resuscitate the notion of painting as a heroic struggle—yet, paradoxically, many of the works depict everyday insignificances. The painter unsettles the banal by fusing it with the absurd: In Getting Dressed All at Once, 2012, a figure fumbles with the impossible task of outfitting each appendage simultaneously; in Slow Motion Shower, 2015, a woman with flailing shrimp-pink limbs performs an agonizing ablution. Compromised bodies are scattered throughout the show, whether trapped in a Gustonian hell in Swimming, Smoking, Crying, 2009; caught in the glare of a police spotlight in As Normal as Possible, 2015; or cramped in the titular vehicle of Carpool, 2016. Both their humiliating dishevelment and their constriction within Schutz’s frames evoke the precarious status of the contemporary individual, whose image is endlessly circulated, manipulated, and scrutinized within digital information flows...

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