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Dana Schutz at David Zwirner, New York

Dana Schutz, The Hill, 2023.

This will be Schutz’s first solo exhibition with David Zwirner and will coincide with a major survey of the artist’s work, on view from October 2023 to February 2024, at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, where it traveled from the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark.

Among the artist’s most ambitious in scale and complexity to date, the viscerally evocative paintings and sculptures in Jupiter’s Lottery depict allegorical scenes in which often grotesque characters negotiate their subjecthood.

Painted wet-on-wet, Schutz’s tragicomic situations are populated by characters preoccupied with self-preservation as they tilt towards oblivion. With mask-like features—all jaws and noses—they emerge, in groups and pairs, out of the painterly atmosphere. The depicted subjects are volumetric and malleable, like drifting clouds. Their organic forms are echoed in the gestural sculpture also present in this exhibition.

Dense with color and mood, Schutz’s paintings make the human predicament visible and the indescribable felt. The Gathering (2023), the largest work in the show, evokes the narrative structure and horizontality of a history painting. In a rural landscape dotted with distant fires, figures take part in an ominous communion. In paintings such as The Arbiters (2023) and Table Scene (2022), figures huddle around tables carrying out gruesome exchanges. Other works depict intimate scenarios where representation operates on a continuum, as subjects appear like puppets, material apparitions, or constructions.

The theme of painting itself is addressed in works such as Parrots (2023), which depicts three vain beachgoers trying to catch parrots while a wave crashes behind them, washing up hand mirrors and unsettling avian perches. The birds hover like brushstrokes in midair, and the figures dissolve in the gestural cacophony. In Dear Painter (2023), a large-headed woman lies in bed, being posed both as a subject and a painter in a staged studio-like space. Against a bright green backdrop, she seems unwell, staring vacantly, her large head resembling that of a mascot, as she is being dressed and painted.

The exhibition also presents new large-scale sculptures. Modeled in clay before being cast in bronze, these works, Schutz’s largest yet, give three-dimensional, gestural form to her imagined characters and scenes. Their active surfaces show the traces of the artist’s hand and process, lending them a loose immediacy and plasticity that mirrors the newfound physicality of the figures in her paintings. The dynamic, shifting forms of these larger-than-life-sized sculptures can only fully be perceived in the round, with figures emerging out of a central mass and set on pedestal-like bases that mimic the post-calamitous terrains of Schutz’s paintings.

The largest of these, Sea Group (2022), presents a tangled mass of struggling figures huddled on an indeterminate island composed of forms resembling bones and crutches; together they coalesce into a billowing whole made up of interconnected parts. Large Model (2022), by contrast, presents a solitary, monumental figure emerging from a churning patch of ocean, her gaze and pose simultaneously confrontational and exhibitionist. Wearing nothing but a swimsuit of carved stripes, she rests her hand on a jutting thigh while the other absurdly holds a handbag. Schutz’s sculptures, which she began making in 2018, are of the same pictorial world as her paintings, and the two sides of her practice have since continued to together animate and engage the formal, experimental, and pictorial possibilities of her work.

The exhibition’s title references Aesop’s fable of the same name, which recounts how the Roman god Jupiter established a lottery for mankind, with Wisdom as the top prize. When Minerva—the goddess of wisdom, and Jupiter’s daughter—won, Jupiter appeased the angry crowd and silenced their murmurs by presenting them with Folly in place of Wisdom. Thenceforth, as the moral of the story goes, the greatest fools have always looked upon themselves as the wisest men.

On the occasion of Jupiter’s Lottery, David Zwirner Books will publish a catalogue featuring newly commissioned essays on the artist’s work by Jarrett Earnest and Kenneth Silver. Additionally, a new Phaidon monograph of Schutz’s work will be released in the fall that includes contributions by Hamza Walker, Dan Nadel, and Lynne Tillman.

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