Dana Schutz - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 15, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Victoria Miro, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    London, Victoria Miro, Painting 2004, March 30 – April 24, 2004
    Waltham, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Dana Schutz: Paintings 2002-2005, January 19 – April 9, 2006
    London, Royal Academy of Arts, USA Today: New American Art, October 6 – November 4, 2006
    Saint Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum, USA Today: New American Art from the Saatchi Gallery, October 24, 2007 – January 13, 2008
    Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Riotous Baroque: From Cattelan to Zurbarán - Tributes to Precarious Vitality, June 18 – October 6, 2013
    London, Saatchi Gallery, Body Language, November 20, 2013 – March 23, 2014

  • Literature

    J. Cape, The Triumph of Painting, Saatchi Gallery, London, 2005, pp. 192-193 (illustrated)
    Dana Schutz: Paintings 2002-2005, exh. cat., Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, 2006, p. 43 (illustrated)
    USA Today: New American Art from The Saatchi Gallery, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2006, pp. 328-329 (illustrated)
    USA Today: New American Art from The Saatchi Gallery, exh. cat., The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, 2007, p. 161 (illustrated)
    J. Foer, B. Schwabsky, Dana Schutz, New York: Rizzoli, 2010, p. 59 (illustrated)
    E. Booth-Clibborn, The History of the Saatchi Gallery, London: E. Booth-Clibborn Editions, 2011, p. 695 (illustrated)
    Body Language, exh. cat., Saatchi Gallery, London, 2013, p. 74 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I embrace the area between which the subject is composed and decomposing, formed and formless, inanimate and alive.”

    DANA SCHUTZ, 2004

    Dana Schutz’s masterpiece Reformers, 2004, is an exquisite example of the artist’s use of dazzling colors entwined with shattered forms. Three figures are seen, bowing over a disjointed table. They ferociously disassemble a human form and pour kaleidoscopic debris into the vortex space between the splintered wooden table top. One figure empties a bucket of liquid while the other grasps a human arm with his feet. Yet the figures themselves seem to be an arrangement of disconnected body parts—arms that float from the body, feet and legs that serve as prehensile tools. Illustrated in vibrant hues, these hybrid figures both intrigue and terrify. Set against a bright blue sky and gossamer white clouds, the scene is one of colorful chaos. As Schutz explains, “Color is essential to the way I organize space in the painting.” (Dana Schutz in Conversation with Jarrett Earnest, The Brooklyn Rail, June 4, 2012). The zealous brushstrokes of this incomprehensible landscape lend itself to the telling of an epic tale, one both of tragedy and comedy.

    Reformers captures Schutz’s unparalleled ability to sculpt through her additive painting process, in which layers of brushstrokes are built upon each other in lush and tactile brilliance. Here the paint is literally sculpted upon the picture plane with ecstatic imagination. The layers of hot magenta, olive green, sky blue, and chocolaty brown are folded upon the canvas in thick strokes, collapsing and colliding as they bedeck the surface in their sumptuous forms. Through this application, the unimaginable comes to life; that which seems impossible – a carnivorous scene of terrible mutilation – is infused with audacity and vibrancy. Schutz depicts hypothetical scenarios, informed by reality, but extended into the imaginary. In the Reformers, 2004, three figures – if they can be called such – are enclosed by the rectangular canvas, but not controlled; they gorge upon and rip apart the form that lies before them. They are ravenous with greed as limbs are torn, giving way to a waterfall of colors. As is brilliantly typical of Schutz’s tableaux, one’s eyes feast upon the work, unsure of whether the story is beginning or ending.

    The players in this tragicomedy stare with unbroken focus at the goods before them; the two central forms bend over the table, eyes wide and unwavering, ready to set their master plan in motion. Like most actors in Schutz’s scenes, they are damaged or limited in some way: one figure uses his feet to rebuild or tear apart the objects that lie before him. The brilliance of Schutz’s kaleidoscopic works is precisely this: the uncertainty of construction versus destruction. Are these figures perhaps reconfiguring and rebuilding, instead of chaotically and violently preying? The disparate parts that are scattered upon the broken tabletop are perhaps being reimagined by these strange and colorful forms. Regardless of the narrative, while it may be either triumphant or horrifying, through Schutz’s imaginative and bountiful brushstrokes, the moment is charged with vibrancy, whimsy, and bountiful possibility.

    Schutz’s narrative ambiguity is intentional. The artist describes that “although the paintings themselves are not specifically narrative, I often invent imaginative systems and situations to generate information. These situations usually delineate a site where making is a necessity, audiences potentially don’t exist, objects transcend their function and reality is malleable.” (D. Schutz, 2004) Dislodged from any comprehensible timeline, Schutz’s interests lie in the transcendence of the realistic. Her distinctive visual language unifies the scene as one of explosive energy and expressionism while the absurdist narrative is astoundingly compelling. The title of the work, Reformers, implies a narrative of alteration and the removal of defects in order to create a better condition. “To make a painting with people and things is not just 'subjective whatever-ness.' It's who we are and where we come from and can parallel the world.” (Dana Schutz in Conversation with Jarrett Earnest, The Brooklyn Rail, June 4, 2012).

    In a comparable masterpiece, Presentation, 2005, belonging to The Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection, a more whole form lays upon a similar tabletop. And like the centerpiece of Reformers, limbs have been severed, twisted, and warped in perverse and unsettling glory. A crowd has gathered, some gasp, some divert their eyes, and others stare in amazement at the impossibility of the figure’s still rising breath. The form is rendered in hot pinks, mustard yellows and bloodied red, literally melting into the pink grain of the wood beneath. Presentation is both the prequel and the sequel to the present lot, both capturing the whole figure before it has been dismembered, and showing the fruit of the creatures’ labor as they put the colorful pieces back together.
    Reformers lingers beautifully somewhere between life and death: it has the calm of a still life and the spirit of animation. The painting speaks to and captures the process of its very making – in the viscous brushstrokes, vibrant palette, and lush forms, one can almost smell and taste its very conception. Reformers is an allegory, not just in its tale, but for the very process of making art. By rendering the process of painting, we see the creation of both a work and the artist; constantly recycling herself and reinventing herself anew. Here we see a model of creation, one that blurs beginnings and endings in chaotic wonderment. In dense brushstrokes and heavy paints, Schutz renders both the imaginary and the ephemeral: the effect is as transcendent.



oil on canvas
75 1/16 x 91 1/16 in. (190.7 x 231.3 cm.)
Signed and dated "Dana Schutz 2004" on the reverse.

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $605,000

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 May 2014 7PM