A House Subdivided 

Charlotte Schulz deconstructs the McMansion.

Max Beckmann said we humans continually pile up things to distract ourselves from the void; we use possessions as distractions from troublesome thoughts. George Carlin had a funnier take on the baubles Americans accrue in their desire to die with the most toys, er, stuff, covered by a nice roof. Our national cargo cult reached an apotheosis a decade ago when it was predicted that "the end of history" would be worldwide shopping for everyone. Really?

The void (rationality? balance?) is back again these days, and it's peering in our windows, like the unnamed invaders in Cortázar's story, "House Taken Over," or the mute, bandaged schmerz (pain) figures in Boris Vian's play The Empire Builders, who, casually beaten and kicked by a bourgeois French family, gradually invade their home. The current show of drawings at Mills College Art Museum by Charlotte Schulz, curated by Thomas Trummer, depicts our current state of confused foreboding.

Schulz makes huge, detailed charcoal drawings that resemble smoky, tenebrous mezzotint prints; sometimes done on large paper sheets, sometimes on sheets butted together or folded over like waves, the drawings, set in deep shadow boxes, become sculptural objects, perhaps pages torn from some gigantic sketchbook. From afar they look abstract, but seen up close, their vignettes leap into focus, full of familiar domestic details: walls, panels, staircases, books, curtains, beds, tables, TV screens, skylights, awnings, antennas, lamps, mantels, roofs. Despite the wide-angle perspectives and detailed rendering, however, the space in these works is episodic and contradictory, and impossible to grasp as a totality; it's fractured, like our consciousness. The scenes themselves, too, tend toward anarchy: the panels are thin as folded paper, and lighted so harshly that they become translucent or transparent; fires burn unattended, their light diffused in the hazy air; toy airplanes hover above, and toy boats float in the floors; tiny cities sit on work tables or hang from cratered ceilings; mandolins, pyramids, Corinthian columns, and sandbags jostle for space; small elusive figures, hooded or equipped with flashlight eyes, scuttle through the ruins, or lie in beds or in coffin-like vitrines; and white ribbons coil and flutter in the silent wind like the pennons in Renaissance paintings, but without messages. It's magic realism, but with no one home — or everyone asleep. What was that noise?! Charlotte Schulz: An Insufficiency in Our Screens runs through August 3 at Mills College Art Museum (5000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland). Mills.edu/museum or 510-430-2164.


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