Dana Schutz - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, June 26, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Dana Schutz, 'Moonwalker', Lot 5

    20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 27 June 2019

  • Provenance

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

  • Exhibited

    Kansas City, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, America: Now and Here, 6 - 28 May 2011

  • Catalogue Essay

    In Moonwalker, 2009, Dana Schutz paints a picture that is familiar in subject matter, yet deeply enigmatic in appearance. At the heart of the composition, a deconstructed astronaut stands next to a collapsing flag, referencing man’s historic endeavour to reach the surface of the Moon - a quest finally realised on 13 September 1959, precisely fifty years before the work’s date of execution. Redolent of a kind of surreal apocalypse, Moonwalker is evocative more of chaos and waste than it is of a miraculous feat able to lift the spirits of American citizens in the raging depths of the Cold War. Subverting the common associations connected to this iconic and ground-breaking event, Schutz conveys a characteristically unsettling atmosphere that merges grotesque figuration with the uncanny, straddling formal iterations of Synthetic Cubism and postwar German painting that together conjure an entirely new aesthetic, vested with colourful explosions and beguiling amorphousness. Merging a conspicuous reference to American history as well as a stylistic affinity to European modernism, Moonwalker is indicative of Schutz’s resolve to bring traditional themes into the contemporary realm.

    An evident pattern is revealed upon observing Schutz’s now impressively prolific opus. As noted by Calvin Tomkins, the artist’s paintings ‘carry veiled references to what’s going on in the world’, as if sourcing the foundational roots of news stories and upending them with seemingly innocuous, and explosively joyful imagery (Calvin Tomkins, ‘Why Dana Schutz Painted Emmett Till’, The New Yorker, 3 April 2017, online). Yet, the boisterous dynamism emanating from Schutz’s paintings very quickly takes a more complex, and often darker, turn, as their energy serves not to convey euphoria or ecstasy but rather notions of excess and overabundance; a visual materialisation of gluttony and its paradoxically destructive and diminishing effects. ‘Is this a representation of some corroded human beings, or a corroded representation of some human beings?’ muses Barry Schwabsky. ‘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). Separating seminal events from their cocoons of fallacious praise, Dana Schutz reveals the difficult realities that lie behind every success, every great feat, every step forward.

    Caught within the spirit of its time, depicting the connection between the powerful emotion of mankind and the commercial portrayal of the events of the world around us, Moonwalker parallels Robert Rauschenberg’s distinct and crucial imagery from the 1960s. His Retroactive 1, deploying the readily recognisable images of an American astronaut and John F. Kennedy – totems of 1960s popular culture – echoes the present work’s theme and pictorially fragmented rendition. Rauschenberg’s fascination with the space race pervades his oeuvre, the corporeal imagery of the Apollo launch experience featuring in a number of monumental canvases, as well as a series of thirty-four crisp lithographs – 29 held by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – that juxtapose hand-drawn imagery with passages of the Florida landscape, as well as the industrial aesthetic of the quest into space. Mirroring the poignant image of the American astronaut that resonates throughout Rauschenberg’s celebrated compositions, the moonwalker within the present work strides through Schutz’s disquietingly abstract realm, eschewing literal references to the Cold War and presenting an uncannily vibrant scene.

    Moonwalker is an excellent example of Schutz’s ability to materialise ambivalence. Within the composition, the remnants of a fragmented astronaut stand still on what seems to be the trunk of a tree, signifying the loss of two lives – one fragmented and one razed – as opposed to the celebration of two beacons of hope. Schutz’s morbid deterioration of the moonlanding 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 remarked. ‘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 Kafkaesque aura of Moonwalker immerses contemporary life with apocalyptic fervour, summoning the darker, concealed folds of history.

    Touching on a theme that has, in its broader definition, been used profusely in the art historical canon, Moonwalker is furthermore redolent of the moon imagery employed by the likes of Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, and Wassily Kandinsky in their highly poetic and often spiritual art. In his Circles on Black, 1921, Kandinsky assembles a variety of celestial elements: the rainbow-like burst of a comet, small colourful stars on a vast expanse of black sky, and a sizeable moon at the heart of the composition, gray and black in places, suggesting the viewer’s privileged position in its immediate vicinity. Where Kandinsky uses fragmentation as means of literal vitality, allusively transforming the moon and her neighbours into a single condensed image, Schutz employs the same method of putrefaction to convey the energy radiated by waste, and the possibilities located within gangrenous remains. As a result, the image is impenetrable rather than open: an enigmatic tableau waiting to be deciphered.



signed and dated 'Dana Schutz 2009' on the reverse
oil on canvas
182.9 x 193 cm (72 x 75 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2009.

£550,000 - 750,000 

Sold for £675,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén

Director, Senior Specialist
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019