Dana Schutz - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | Phillips

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  • A maelstrom of vibrant color and fractured form, Swiss Family Traveling, 2015, exemplifies Dana Schutz’s painterly breakdown of space and volume. Flailing limbs, flushed faces, and contorted figures command the composition as Schutz’s neo-Cubist brushwork fragments objects and bodies into bold geometric planes. The result is a clenched composition that teems with all of the anticipatory stress of family holiday travel, offset by a sun-drenched palette and lively sense of humor. Structuring the chaos with crystalline painterly logic, Schutz depicts a quotidian but decontextualized scene rendered slightly strange as she conjures a vision of reality that has an element of the theater of the absurd about it.

    Home Alone, 1990

    Combining vivid figuration with jarring asymmetric geometries, Swiss Family Traveling epitomizes the fragmented style through which Schutz captures the complexities of human experience. Schutz positions a stylishly attired family within a storm of visual tumult as she arranges the jagged planes of vibrant color; the competing passages of hue and texture warp together, isolating each family member and pressing them deeper into the churning frenzy. The intense structure of the composition imparts a stressful, claustrophobic effect, recalling the oversaturated multitudes and feverish overstimulation of destinations like the Champs-Elysées and Times Square. Compressed under this immense pressure, Swiss Family Traveling shatters into discordant planes of visceral color, establishing a vibrating dissonance that imbues the work with hectic dynamism. Schutz reprises the pioneering effects of synthetic cubism to create the multicolored scramble of competing planes that exaggerates the tensions conveyed; the result is a scattered delirium that buzzes with uneasy emotion, marrying form and function to dizzying effect. 
    "I embrace the area between which the subject is composed and decomposing, formed and formless, inanimate and alive."
    —Dana Schutz

    Kazimir Malevich, The Knife Grinder, or Principle of Glittering, 1912–1913. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven

    Swiss Family Traveling exemplifies Schutz’s construction of absurd imagined situations, creating melancholy musings of contemporary life. Isolated from its sources and contorted to jarring effect, Swiss Family Traveling offers dissociated looks at a recognizable scenario cut off from all narrative and context; Schutz has commented that while her “paintings themselves are not specifically narrative, I often invent imaginative systems and situations to generate information. These situations usually delineate a site where…objects transcend their function and reality is malleable.”i The resultant artwork is accentuated by its metaphysical strangeness as the artist depicts a scene that is simultaneously grounded in the everyday and in the imagination.
    Swiss Family Traveling is part of a series featured in Schutz’s sophomore exhibition at Petzel Gallery, Fight in an Elevator. As the exhibition’s title suggests, Schutz places her figures within compressed spaces where they are forced to struggle against their painted environments. The characters find themselves in helpless and perplexing situations in foreign and absurd settings; these highly structured spaces, which are both intensely public and utterly private, exemplify Schutz’s engagement with the subject of interiority. Rather than offering a voyeuristic view of the scene, her frontal facing subjects stare directly back at the viewer, seemingly with the desire to extend outside of themselves. Schutz’s characters work a double agenda: while embroiled in their semi-private interiors, they are active participants in the viewer’s encounter with the painting. 

    Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman, 1937. The Tate, London, Artwork: © 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    At the core of Schutz’s painting and paramount to Swiss Family Traveling is an abiding interest in the ways we express emotion. The wincing, confused, and frustrated expressions of the eponymous troupe, cherry red contortions at their most embellished, imbue the figures with a distressed psychological weight that radiates from the composition. The artist David Salle remarked has on this aspect of Schutz’s work, saying that her paintings “have the look of feelings made external.”ii Swiss Family Traveling renders experiences familiar to most viewers—namely the dissonant gnawing of familial ties exacerbated by the frustrations of travel—as grotesque caricatures of real life, appropriating everyday emotion as the ultimate exaggeration of itself, and thus rendering it foreign and immediate. Schutz, in consummate Brechtian form, materializes emotion in painting and presents the viewer with absurd reflections of real life.
    i Dana Schutz, quoted in Painting 2004: Group Exhibition, press release, Victoria Miro, London, 2004.
    ii David Salle, “Dana Schutz,” Artforum, vol. 50, no. 4, December 2011, p. 247.

    • Provenance

      Petzel, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Petzel, Dana Schutz: Fight in an Elevator, September 10 – October 24, 2015

    • Literature

      Michael Lieberman, “Dana Schutz at Petzel Gallery, NYC,” The Art Blog, September 22, 2015, online (illustrated)
      Kyle Chayka, “A Painter for Our Absurd Age of Pop Culture,” The New Republic, September 2015, online
      Kate Liebman, “DANA SCHUTZ Fight in an Elevator,” Brooklyn Rail, October 5, 2015, online
      Julia Felsenthal, “Artsplainer: Dana Schutz’s Paintings in New York and Montreal,” Vogue, October 19, 2015, online
      “‘What if People Could Eat Themselves?’: Dana Schutz on her Macabre Paintings, in 2007,” ARTnews, October 23, 2016, online (illustrated)

Property from a Distinguished New York Collection


Swiss Family Traveling

signed and dated "Dana Schutz 2015" on the reverse
oil on canvas
84 x 88 in. (213.4 x 223.5 cm)
Painted in 2015.

Full Cataloguing

$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $1,482,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 23 June 2021