Dana Schutz - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 16, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Dana Schutz, 'Signing', Lot 34

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 16 May 2019

  • Provenance

    Zach Feuer Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Zach Feuer Gallery, Dana Schutz: Missing Pictures, March 13 - April 25, 2009

  • Literature

    Roberta Smith, "Art in Review: Dana Schutz, 'Missing Pictures'", The New York Times, April 16, 2009, online
    Jonathan Safran Foer and Barry Schwabsky, Dana Schutz, New York, 2010, p. 139 (illustrated, pp. 8, 131; details illustrated, pp. 128-129)
    Cary Levine and Helaine Posner, Dana Schutz: If the Face Had Wheels, exh. cat., Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, 2011, p. 69 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    In Signing, 2009, Dana Schutz erects a disquieting, surreal world furnished in her idiosyncratic visual lexicon. Depicting one of the most chronicled events in American history – the ratification of the Declaration of Independence – as a post-apocalyptic moment frozen in time, Signing approaches the traditional genre of history painting through a contemporary lens and on a monumental scale. The dense composition is replete with the American forefathers, who are rendered half-eroded or scorched in a chromatic dimension that combines fantasy with reality and beauty with horror. Belonging to Schutz’s small, discrete chapter created in 2008-2009 in which figures are severely burnt or singed, Signing is the only “singed” painting to feature the history motif that has become one of her most iconic subjects. Signing embodies the peculiar vision that has launched Schutz to critical acclaim, cemented by her inclusion in major institutional collections as well as by curator Eva Respini’s contention that she is “one of the most important painters of her generation” (Eva Respini in Joshua Barone, “Outrage Follows a Painter from the Whitney Biennial to Boston”, The New York Times, July 27, 2017, online).

    Signing takes its place in the pantheon of depictions of the ratification of the Declaration of Independence captured in the canon of American history painting, most discernably referencing John Trumbull’s eponymous work from 1817-1818 which is housed in the United States Capitol. Schutz has revisited the conventional genre throughout her career, notably with Presentation, 2005 – which belongs to The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Signing ironically interrogates this distinctly American subject through the lens of the 20th century European avant-garde with a multitude of pronounced formal analogies to Synthetic Cubism and German as well as a vibrant palette reminiscent of René Magritte’s vache period. Incorporating a conspicuous topical reference to American history painting as well as a stylistic affinity to European modernism, Signing is testimony to Schutz’s resolve to re-present traditional themes in a contemporary context.

    Schutz’s oeuvre dexterously oscillates between grotesque destruction and prolific creation; in Signing, a nation-producing document is signed by historically monumental figures that appear burned and severely eroded, some entirely faceless, and the active signee’s hand invisible. The corporal and macabre deterioration of formidable individuals with seemingly invincible reputations kindles a multitude of interpretations, but perhaps most palpable is the weightless, dreamlike dimension of the work. “It’s as if there has been an unseen explosion that happened outside the painting… singeing [some of the subjects] on the left or right side. [They] appeared like cut-outs themselves—objects or props that could be rearranged...” Schutz delineated. “I was looking at Magritte at the time. I liked the fake-out surfaces and patterns in his work… And there was this question of whether the painting you’re looking at is something that just happened, like a frozen event, or if it’s something that never really happened, but that you could reconstruct and put together however you wanted” (Dana Schutz, quoted in Dana Schutz: If the Face Had Wheels, exh. cat., Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, 2011, p. 95). The vacant, Kafkaesque aura of Signing fuses contemporary life with an apocalyptic, surreal rendering of one of the most recounted moments in United States history.

    Signing encapsulates a mystifying quality which art critic and historian Barry Schwabsky contends best demonstrated Schutz’s precocity at this point in her oeuvre. Perhaps best interpreted as a painting’s ability to wink at itself – as in Magritte’s The Treachery of Images, 1928-1929 – this aspect challenges the viewer with myriad questions; Schwabsky ponders of Signing, “Is this a representation of some corroded human beings, or a corroded representation of some human beings?... Does the painting symbolize ambivalence toward its subjects’ heroic reputation?... Or is it about the art of painting itself and its diminished capacity to engage with history as subject matter?” (Barry Schwabsky, Dana Schutz, New York, 2010, p. 8). Thwarting any concrete conclusions to whether the rendering refers to a reality inside or outside of itself, Signing fosters an inscrutable presentation of colonial history. While Magritte’s paintings wink at the limits of language, Schutz unmasks the boundaries of history and memory: the latter uses a scene that has been historicized as tranquil and noble to reveal the destructive and brutal war that actually engendered the country’s independence. Ridiculing the use of an administrative scene as a synecdoche for a violent revolution, Schutz revitalizes the Dada and Surrealist manipulation of syntax and symbols with a contemporary perspective.

    Dense with figures who appear more caricatured than three-dimensional, Signing upends traditional portrayals of these avowedly heroic figures. Thus, in a work that is topically historical but unequivocally contemporary, Schutz carefully constructs an enigmatic dimension that suspends the moment of the establishment of the United States. As Calvin Tomkins astutely illuminated, “Schutz’s pictorial logic allows her to build pictures that are simultaneously convincing and absurd, troubling and uncanny… The private worlds that her bold, declarative colors and thrusting forms evoke can be inexplicable, but they resonate with the anxieties and contradictions of contemporary life” (Calvin Tomkins, “Why Dana Schutz Painted Emmett Till”, The New Yorker, November 10, 2017, online).

Property from a Private European Collection



oil and acrylic on canvas
80 1/8 x 90 1/8 in. (203.5 x 228.9 cm.)
Painted in 2009.

$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for $980,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue