When push comes to shove (and it does so more and more often as I get older) I’m usually not much taken with figurative and narrative paintings especially where ‘traditional ‘ notions of composition, colour balance, factor and so on have been jettisoned or, more charitably perhaps, ‘challenged’ or ‘re-invented’. So I wasn’t expecting a great deal to excite me when we decided to limbo under the rapidly closing gate that is the Dana Schutz show at the Hepworth, Wakefield. If you haven’t seen it you’ll need to schedule a trip to the Kestnergesellschaft in Hannover (a rather splendid gallery since you ask…) where it is going on to from August 29 till 26 October, 2014.
But I got quite a surprise. As it happens the compositional invention is pretty hot, referencing all manner of surreal and scatological goings on and even topical events of the day but it was the astoundingly strong painterly intelligence that I was taken with. I’ve popped up the detail above as but a small sample of what I mean…a wide range of tropes and devices are at work with both freedom and restraint that brings alive all of the paintings that were on show.
Ok so a few of them were overly complicated for my taste (one of the reference catalogues on display outside the two gallery spaces was that of Jorg Immendorff and in the biggest pictures there was a bit of that chaotic Cafe Deutschland shtik going on) but some of the full frontal images of a single figure or two foregrounded were quite exceptional and the level of plastic invention carried everything off with considerable aplomb. One of our favourites was ‘Ocular’ (above) where the ambiguity of the imagery was coupled with some real painterly juice of the highest order. Overall this was a show it was worth making that special effort to get along to.