Near the entrance of the Miami Art Museum, a self-portrait depicts artist Dana Schutz wide-eyed and gazing heavenward. Traffic-cone-colored locks frame her gray, wrinkled face. Her nose, rendered in slashing brush strokes, looks like an elephant's trunk. It juts out from the canvas in a bubbled welt.
Across the way is a picture of a young woman sneezing in a scrunched-eyed convulsion, an explosion of mucous spraying from her schnoz. The blonde's piggish peepers are rendered with daubs of oil paint squeezed straight from the tube, magnifying the notion that she might have a contagious disease.
The two paintings show Schutz's wicked streak of humor and gift for corrosive storytelling. They are part of a remarkable suite of more than 40 paintings and drawings in "Dana Schutz: If the Face Had Wheels," a survey of the Brooklyn-based artist's work from 2001 to 2011.
The sprawling show was highly trumpeted by national art critics when it opened in New York last year and garnered the cover of November's Art in America. Indeed, the 35-year-old artist has been awash in a cascade of accolades for wildly inventive images that bore into the skull.
Included are paintings from Schutz's early Frank From Observation series, in which she portrays the fictional account of "Frank," the last man on Earth, who poses for the planet's only surviving painter. It was created shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In Self Eaters, another series, begun after the Iraq War escalated in 2003 and 2004, a race of what appear to be mutant cannibals devours its own flesh in an orgy of narcissistic self-consumption. But the self-sufficient grotesques regenerate themselves from their own waste.
At once ambivalent and absurd, these works describe a world slipping off its axis in dangerous and uncertain times.
The painting that best reflects the Zeitgeist isThe Autopsy of Michael Jackson
, which actually presaged the pop icon's death by several years. In the garage-door-size canvas, the singer is splayed on his back on a metal morgue slab. His nude body is mottled by the asparagus-green hues of rigor mortis and sutured like a baseball. On a shelf over his decomposing foot, affixed with a toe tag, his trademark silver glove and his red military shirt lie neatly folded.
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Jackson's blotchy penis is rendered in loose, gestural strokes. It recalls the singer's child abuse trials, the testimony he suffered from vitiligo, and his lifelong obsession with altering his appearance.
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"Dana Schutz: If the Face Had Wheels" Through February 26 at Miami Art Museum, 101 W. Flagler St., Miami; 305-375-3000; miamiartmuseum.org. Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.