Ludwig Schwarz is an unabashedly phenomenal painter working in his strongest voice to date for Rentown at Angstrom Gallery in Dallas.
Rentown pairs nine of Schwarz’s new paintings with furniture, electronic equipment and other fine accessories on loan from Plano-based Rent-A-Center, Inc., the country’s largest retail chain offering home furnishings on a convenient rent-to-own basis.
This show is, in fact, a temporary conversion of the Angstrom space into a functioning Rent-A-Center, ready and willing to put a new spin on things for the art crowd and simultaneously attract the crowds of people visiting the Texas State Fair just across the street, perhaps the sort of people who might never have thought to step into Angstrom in its usual guise.
Yes, you can rent-to-own everything in Rentown, from the safe and comfy-looking Ashley Dinette Set ($1,091.22 in total payments of $55.96 a month; $545.61 in cash) in the front room to Schwarz’s orgasmic, good scary and extremely exciting Untitled (Topo The Clown #1), which hangs above the sleazily slick black bed in the back room (all the paintings are $9996.00 in total payments of $833.00 a month; $5,000 cash). Rent-A-Center contract forms are placed conveniently on the dinette table and coffee tables for the customer/collector who is ready to make a deal/investment.
This show transcends tired academic ideas about the play between high and low and focuses instead on the real possibility for appreciation, on a fun, gut level, for Schwarz’s image making and for the “tacky” accoutrements Schwarz designates as ready-made art. Near equivalency rules the roost. The paintings do indeed always seem just a little bit more powerful and important than any of the Rent-A-Center goods (they hang on the wall after all), but it is possible to be equally entertained or confused or frightened or wowed by some of the furniture-cum-sculpture in the space.
Dare I say the highlight of the show for some, for the audiophile with an attitude, might be the totally kick ass stereo system in the front living room? It is BIG with drive-up appeal: a hybrid mishmash thing, the collision of wonderfully obvious faux wood grain, aggressive speaker grillwork, and protective cabinetry usually reserved for live performance equipment. I want one, at least for a week or two.
Schwarz’s paintings are fresh and exciting for the same reasons this stereo is. They are blunt, muscular, cacophonous, and full of mixed-up fragments that seem to be visiting each other in a new context. This doesn’t mean the paintings lack internal cohesion or that the clipped images, painterly passages, quotations, pours and decorative patterns don’t work incredibly well together. They really do, particularly when Schwarz is really rocking, as in Topo, or rolling, as in Untitled (Great American Guilt).
Topo is pleasantly bizarre, a barrage of colorful marks made with spray cans, brushes, and who-knows what other tools, layered over a dark background. A very loud, very wet coital explosion bursts and oozes from the center of the picture plane. Is this the old AB-EX painting-as-sex idea revisited? Yes, but you find yourself not caring because it seems fun and real (fun and real precisely because the gestures are helped along humorously and ironically by the setting; the bad-ass bachelor paddish bedroom).
A more somber, but equally tragicomic note is struck by Guilt. The image consists of a blackish-brownish-redish-bluish-whitish background, rolled and scraped and wiped on in a deliciously haphazard way, accented in the lower left-hand corner by an overturned Houston Oilers football helmet (may that franchise rest in peace). The helmet is tightly painted by Schwarz’s standards, except for the quickly rendered ear hole, a very nice touch. This is the kind of painting that would have made Sigmar Polke’s A-list, and some smart patron of the arts or devoted Oilers fan ought to scrape up the 12 easy monthly payments of $833.00 fast. This painting would feel equally at home in either type of collection.
The jabs and jokes, sometimes quite topical sometimes not, continue in the rest of the images on view. For instance, Untitled (Good Mourning (Study for Limited Edition)) features a blood-red shape with text in orange lettering as follows: “This shape is dedicated to the friends and families of the six students who were shot and killed at Jacob Lawrence Elementary School.” Untitled (Mac Tech Wanted) advertises for IT help: “Mac Tech Wanted…NO LOSERS.”
This is the kind of frolicsome expressiveness Schwarz has become known for, but it all seems more exciting, even reinvented, within the context of paintings that are operating at a new and powerful visual level. This is Schwarz feeling loose, confident, and sometimes flippantly in command of his medium. This is Schwarz having quite a nice time, and letting everyone else in on the fun, too, renters and owners.
NOTE: Mr. Schwarz asked that I quote him in this review, a request to which I am most happy o reply in the affirmative. He gave me two blurbs to choose from, but I’ll share both: “Mushmouth is a bitch.” and “They call me Mr. Glass.”
Jeff Dalton is a writer living in Dallas, Texas.