Dana Schutz - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 13, 2023 | Phillips

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  • ‘‘I wanted to be painting subjects that did not exist or could not be painted from observation or photographed…to make something that felt like it had some kind of consequence.’’
    —Dana Schutz

    Dana Schutz’s large-scale compositions feature subjects embroiled in absurd scenarios. In Gravity Fanatic, a woman has used tape and small weights to secure both herself and a variety of miscellaneous objects surrounding her to the ground. In the artist’s typical style, anatomy is elongated and distorted; legs seem impossibly crossed, fingers are bent at alarming angles and the skin of her face is being grotesquely stretched ‘like chewing gum’.i Schutz creates charged, exciting works - energetic brushstrokes and a thick application of paint give them a visceral impact that heighten the bodily, raw subject matter. 

    ‘‘Every painting has its own DNA – it has hints of previous works, but it ends up being its own thing.’’
    —Dana Schutz

    Schutz frequently plays with perspective and proportion in her work; ‘I want my subjects and paintings to feel like they have space in front of the picture plane, that’s a specific interaction with the viewer’.ii A visceral exchange between subject and viewer is something Schutz achieves with ease: In her Face Eater series, we are rendered helpless as we watch crazed, abstracted faces attempt to devour themselves – cropped closely to amplify the horror. The warped depiction of anatomy in Gravity Fanatics which occupies most of the canvas, exaggerated with angular streaks of white tape and tiny objects, make us feel as if we are both looking down and up at the looming figure. Whilst Schutz’s compositions are often bizarre and busy, she demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of pictorial logic to provide structure within her work – the crossed arms and legs and angular lines of her body acts a central point of focus amid a complex narrative.


    After William Hogarth, Frontispiece to Clubbe’s Physiognomy (or the Weighing House), circa 19th Century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Sarah Lazarus, 1891, 91.1.31


    A sardonic humour runs throughout Schutz’s corpus. In Gravity Fanatic, we are confronted with a subject, obsessed with the idea and effect of gravity, so much so that she secures herself and possessions to the floor. The arrangement of Schutz’s figures as a driving force of her narratives are both ‘entertaining and political’; an egalitarian means of parodying anyone and everyone.iii In many of her other works, Schutz calls upon an amalgamation of political, cultural and art historical references to inform her narratives. Men’s Retreat (2005) depicts a Lord-of-the-Flies-style outing of George Bush’s cabinet in jungle reminiscent of a Henri Rousseau painting; a wry, farcical composition that could have been taken straight from a contemporary satirical magazine like Private Eye.


    Through these nods to current affairs, along with her dark, comedic pictorial style, Schutz assumes the role of a modern-day cartoonist. Satirical magazines such as Punch experienced their Golden Age during the 18th and 19th century, and rose to prominence for eye-catching, absurdist cartoons, bringing cynical humour to subjects that were largely more serious. Accomplished painters, such as William Hogarth, also moonlighted as cartoonists. The Weighing House is an 18th century satirical engraving by Hogarth, which also uses gravity as a reference point, ridiculing the theory of Physiognomy – the practice of judging one’s character based upon physical attributes. Schutz’s art contributes to the continuing practice of questioning and reimagining mainstream media and news – a practice particularly important in an Internet age, that demonstrates her flair for critical thinking. Whilst she borrows from art history and current media, the result of Schutz’s bizarre compositions is not so straightforward; she creates a new canon for her subjects, mirroring the way events in the media are warped and mythologized on the internet.iv


    Salvador Dalí, Daddy Longlegs of the Evening – Hope!, 1940, Salvador Dalí Museum, Florida. Artwork:Artwork: © Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation/DACS, London 2023


    Nevertheless, Schutz’s dark humour and bizarre narratives belie real and relatable expressions of human emotion.  A common thread in historical and more recent interpretation of Surrealism, Schutz’s subjects are often representative of a darker side of human nature - in this case, obsession. The light-hearted titular use of Fanatic is incongruent with what appears to be a woman with a disturbing compulsion to keep herself grounded, mutilating her own body in the process. The exaggeration and distortion of Schutz’s subjects recalls Salvador Dalí’s contorted, molten imagery. In Daddy Longlegs of the Evening – Hope! bodies, instruments and landscape appear grotesquely stretched and distorted. Works like this were painted by Dalí as a way of visualising the horror and destruction of Europe through the rise of fascist regimes. Whilst some of the themes and emotions in Schutz’s compositions are imagined by the artist, they are manifested in a similar fashion.


    Schutz’s figures attain an almost sculptural quality; flesh is rendered loose and malleable, as if made of clay. This portrayal of something as universal as human skin, in a way that is completely unnatural, carves out an immediate undertone of eerie abnormality. The emotional stakes of Schutz’s works become heightened, as relatable anxieties are transformed into nightmarish imagery. Jörg Heiser argues that in the case of Gravity Fanatic, Schutz ‘translates these sculptural questions into neurosis’; the hidden anxieties of Schutz’s subjects manifest themselves in freakish deformations of the human body.v Schutz visualises emotion in the physicality of her compositions, with eye-boggling bodies, thick impasto and bright palettes contributing to their all-encompassing nature.


    Collector’s Digest

    • Dana Schutz is an American painter known for her striking works that combine abstraction and figuration to tell abnormal narratives.

    • Since the completion of her MFA at Columbia University in 2002, Schutz has experienced remarkable success, having held frequent solo exhibitions in galleries and institutions across the world. She is represented by renowned contemporary galleries such as David Zwirner and Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin.

    • She has been the subject of several career retrospectives, most recently this year at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk. Her work is held in the collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Saatchi Gallery, London; and Museo d’arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, among others.



    i Katrin Wittneven, ‘Welcome to Neverland’, trans. Catherine Schelbert, Parkett, no. 75, 2005, p. 35.

    ii Benjamin Bruneau, ‘The Compressed Violence of Dana Schutz’, MOMUS, 19 October, 2015, online.

    iii Susanne Figner, ‘Notes on the Grotesque Body’, in Veit Görner, Susanne Figner, Susanne Hudson, Dana Schutz: Demo, 2014, Cologne, p. 20.

    iv Mei Chin, ‘Dana Schutz by Mei Chin’, BOMB, 1 April, 2006, online.

    v Jörg Heiser, ‘BLINNG BLING, GRRR GRRR: POP AND PAINTING EAT THEMSELVES’, in Raphaela Platow, Katy Siegel and Jörg Heiser, Dana Schutz: Paintings 2002-2005, p. 81.

    • Provenance

      Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin
      Private Collection
      Christie’s, New York, 13 November 2008, lot 368
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Berlin, Contemporary Fine Arts, Dana Schutz: Teeth Dreams and Other Supposed Truths, 2 September – 1 October 2005, no. 7, n.p. (illustrated, n.p.)
      Waltham, The Rose Art Museum, Dana Schutz: Paintings 2002-2005, 19 January – 9 April 2006, pp. 74-75 (illustrated, p. 75)
      Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Eclipse: Art in a Dark Age, 31 May – 24 August 2008, no. 2, n.p. (illustrated, n.p.)
      Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, Dana Schutz, 3 October 2010 - 9 January 2011, pp. 63, 109 (illustrated, p. 63)
      New York, Neuberger Museum of Art; Miami Art Museum; Denver Art Museum, Dana Schutz: If the Face Had Wheels, 25 September 2011 - 13 January 2013, pp. 52, 119 (illustrated p. 52)

    • Literature

      Bice Curiger, ed, The Parkett Series with Contemporary Artists, no. 75, Zurich, 2005, p. 51 (illustrated)


Gravity Fanatic

signed and dated ‘Dana Schutz 2005’ on the reverse
oil on canvas
185.4 x 200.7 cm (72 7/8 x 79 in.)
Painted in 2005.

Full Cataloguing

£250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for £495,300

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 13 October 2023