If the Face Had Wheels

The paintings are scary, unreal and grotesque. There are the imaginary people who consume their own bodies or parts thereof such as the “Face Eater.” There is the “Gouged Girl,” in which a girl picnics nonchalantly on the beach. Her face and body are partly singed. You might for a moment react in disgust to the gross behavior or  to situations posed not unlike those in a horror movie. Yet, the works by artist Dana Schutz at the Neuberger Museum are robustly painted, colorfully contrived and funny. It’s hard to believe, despite the serious subject matter, that one has difficulty suppressing a giggle or a smile. Part of my giggle was about the boldness, the chutzpah in just putting these situations out there. When, as I did, you get past the initial OMG moment, you may want to cheer these paintings as “daring.”

The paintings are in fact presented so matter-of-factly that it is easy to accept the idea that what is going on in the painting is actually going on in some other world. Or perhaps, Dana Schutz, the pert, spunky, curly-headed blonde Mid-Western ingénue, possesses an imaginary world, which she accepts and embraces. Perhaps she is challenging us all to accept our own dark thoughts and imaginary worlds…and yes, even our demons. Walking through this exhibition, I was reminded of an incident when one of my kids, five at the time, woke me up in the middle of the night. “Ma. There’s a bear in my room.” “Where?” I asked. “Behind my bed.” “Okay, let’s go look.” We did. “See, he left. You can go back to sleep now.” “What if he comes back?” “No, I think he’s tired too.” Some of the images are akin to your worst nightmare…but, face it. The sun comes up in the morning. Up until now, it has anyway. Dana Schutz: If the Face Had Wheels will be at the Neuberger Museum through December 18. Don’t miss it.

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