Dana Schutz - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "I was interested in painting these sneezes as a kind of mini-event. I wanted to paint what it actually felt like to sneeze, rather than what it looked like to sneeze...A very small explosion coming out of [the] face."
    —Dana Schutz

    Embodying the fantastical absurdity that defines Dana Schutz’s oeuvre, Sneeze 2 belongs to the artist’s early eponymous series that launched her career. Capturing her subject in the fleeting moment of sneezing, the present work is a kind of anti-portrait, immortalizing her figure on canvas in an undignified, yet undeniably human moment. Showcasing the artist’s dynamic brushwork, gestural strokes and splatters of yellow, green, and blue pigment appear to ricochet out of the canvas through their rich impasto to render an explosion of torrential discharge. Transforming the mundane into the incendiary, Sneeze 2 exemplifies the artist’s unique painterly sensibility of reimagining the ordinary through the grotesque.


    Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, Character Bust, 1770-1783. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Image: © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

    "I knew that I wanted to be painting subjects that did not exist or could not be painted from observation,” in her words. “I wanted to visualize the subject, like it was a thing that I wanted to see pictured, so that was a reason to paint it."
    —Dana Schutz

    Eschewing direct observation or the use of photographic sources, Schutz amalgamates memory, imagination, and humor in conceiving her imagery, an approach that began early on in her career with works such as Sneeze 2. Painted in 2002, the year of the artist’s graduation from Columbia University’s MFA program, the present work is one of three Sneeze paintings created between 2001 and 2002, one of which is in the permanent collection of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. The other was first purchased by artist Erik Parker—whose eccentric abstractions Schutz deeply admires—at her two-person show at Zach Feuer Gallery, New York the following year. “It felt like a breakthrough,” the artist explained of the success with her Sneeze paintings. “I had a sense of clarity and purpose, even if it was just an invented one.”i This set Schutz on the course of her now highly acclaimed practice that envisions unconventional subject matters of daily life. As she once expressed, she would “rather paint the wrinkle on a man’s forehead than the opening of the Olympics.”ii On her fascination with the sneezing subject, the artist explained, “A sneeze is difficult to observe, so it felt like that was maybe the only way that you could paint it, through a way of trying to imagine how that could work...Painting, in a way, is a kind of compressed narrative which can happen just with gesture itself; there is a speed to it, there is a moment, and it is a kind of frozen moment.”iii 


    Francis Bacon, Head IV, 1949. Hayward Gallery, London. Artwork: © 2022 Estate of Francis Bacon/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

    "I want the palette to operate in a more subjective manner. I think of color in a bodily or physical way and tend to make decisions about it when I am visualizing what I am about to paint. If I make a painting of a sick man, I want the color to describe how sick he is and in what way he is sick."
    —Dana Schutz

    Characterized by a high-key palette and gestural brushwork, Schutz’s works convey her exploration on the possibilities of expressive color through figuration. For Schutz, materiality and representation go hand in hand—and ultimately become one. “I respond to [the] slippage between material and the image. But when I am really into a painting, I stop thinking that I am using paint to represent things,” she elucidated. “The paint becomes grass or snot or skin or whatever. I also like the thought of painting as a descriptive or poetic action, like painting as an adjective or an adverb.”iv In Sneeze 2, the color and viscosity of mucous and paint play in this semiotic slippage as Schutz’s painterly process further echoes the reactive bodily functions in the act of sneezing. Here, the artist situates herself in the tradition of the grotesque as seen in Francis Bacon’s portraits, while conjuring the great influence of Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh on her palette. 



    By capturing the wincing reaction of the sneezing man, the present work reflects Schutz’s abiding interest in the way we express emotion. With the figure’s scrunched forehead—suggested by the various colored streaks of paint that masterfully engage with the effects of light—and his tightly shut eyes, Schutz “wanted [the] head to kind of feel almost flattened in this kind of explosion.”v In doing so, she emphasizes not the appearance but the feeling of the action, a quality paramount to the artist’s work. In the present work, Schutz further captures this in the semi-translucent layer of red pigment over the figure’s forehead, evoking the boiling tension of an oncoming sneeze that detonates on the canvas. It is this aspect of Schutz’s painterly language—the ability to imbue her subjects with a distressed psychological weight—that characterizes her best work. “Schutz’s paintings are the product of a kind of ‘what if–ness’—someone caught in mid-sneeze, a group of middle-aged men on a sensitivity retreat...decidedly unnarcissistic images of humanity,” in David Salle’s words. “They have the look of feelings made external. They give a sense of the great freedom of mind at the core of painting, the exhilaration of it [in Schutz’s work].”vi 

    i Calvin Tomkins, “Why Dana Schutz Painted Emmett Till,” The New Yorker, April 3, 2017, online.
    ii Sue Scott, “Dana Schutz: The Elephant in the Living Room,” in Eleanor Heartney et al., After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art, Munich, 2007, p. 298.
    iii Dana Schutz, quoted in “Sneeze,” Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, exhibition website, 2015-2016, online.
    iv Dana Schutz, quoted in “Holly Coulis and Dana Schutz,” Zach Feuer Gallery, New York, press release, 2002.
    v Dana Schutz, quoted in “Sneeze,” Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, exhibition website, 2015-2016, online.
    vi David Salle, “Dana Schutz,” Artforum, vol. 50, no. 4, December 2011, p. 247.

    • Provenance

      LFL Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Honolulu, The Contemporary Museum; Chicago Cultural Center; Winnipeg Art Gallery; Regina, MacKenzie Art Gallery; Salina Art Center, Situation Comedy: Humor in Recent Art, September 9, 2005–April 22, 2007, no. 30, pp. 43, 67 (illustrated, p. 42; erroneously dated as 2001)

    • Literature

      Amy Karlinsky, “‘Situation Comedy: Humour in Recent Art,’ June 10 – Sept 10, 2006, Winnipeg Art Gallery," Galleries West, April 30, 2006, online (illustrated; erroneously dated as 2001)
      Eleanor Heartney, Helaine Posner, Nancy Princenthal and Sue Scott, After the Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art, Munich, 2007, p. 300 (illustrated, p. 301; erroneously dated as 2001)


Sneeze 2

signed and dated "Dana Schutz 2002" on the reverse
oil on canvas
19 3/4 x 18 5/8 in. (50.2 x 47.3 cm)
Painted in 2002.

Full Cataloguing

$80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for $277,200

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Global Managing Director and Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1278

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+1 212 940 1206

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022