Home Magazine Dana Schutz

According to The Art Newspaper, one of the latest "red-chip" names, that emerge from the shadow of the pandemic, is the American artist Dana Schutz (born 1976 Livonia, Michigan), represented, since last year, by the mega-gallery David Zwirner. After being accused of capitalizing on black pain at 2017 Whitney Biennial, with the painting Open Casket, even defined “savage”, Ms. Schutz’s art does not stop being symbolic and irrational, surreal, hallucinatory and tense.  

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Dana Schutz’s fashionable new name first came to attention with her debut exhibition “Frank from Observation” (2002). As if she were the last observer on earth, Schutzinvented the character of Frank: a middle-aged, pink male with a cascade of thin, blonde hair. His reality, hisessence, his body is captured through the eyes of the last painter on earth. The result was gestural, figurative paintings, accented by vigorous and wildly colorful brush strokes, with references to various pictorial genres.Schutz studied art at the Cleveland Art Institute and received her masters at Columbia University in New York City in 2002. She has been the subject of museum exhibitions both nationally and internationally.


Dana Schutz, Frank as a Proboscis Monkey, 2002, Oil on canvas, 36 x 32 inches, 91.4 x 81.3 cm, Courtesy Zach Feuer © Dana Schutz.


The current market darling Dana Schutz- whose 2017 painting Elevator has been sold at Christie’s for a record $6.5m, more than double the high estimate, beating a 1962 hand-painted Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup Can - does not create paintings that are autobiographical, but she responds to what is happening in the world, in culture. Neither Modernist canvases nor appropriations of   media images, Schutz’s worksembrace the area between which the subject is “composed and decomposing, formed and formless, inanimate and alive”.


Dana Schutz, Elevator, 2017, Oil on canvas, 136 x 170 inches, Courtesy Petzel Gallery, New York © Dana Schutz.


Duchampian, schizofrenic, the amalgam of Ballardian-style bodies in Elevatordepicts the shapes of a fight in a claustrophobic space, both physical and mental. Coincidentally, Schutz’s traditional topic are violent or creative activities, absurd or contradictory situations based on tangents, disjunctions and what remains unseen. 


Dana Schutz, Sleepwalker, 2015, Oil on canvas, 66 x 47.25 inches, Courtesy Petzel Gallery, New York © Dana Schutz. 


It would be our worst nightmare right now, but Schutz’s figures are placed within compressed interiors where they are forced to struggle against the boundaries of their fictional, structured environments and the physical edge of the canvas. What is frozen in time and space is the subject of interiority. The woman’s oneiric - a little hallucinatory - space, in Sleepwalker (2015), where she is somnambulating down a narrow staircase, like a ghost trapped in a lucid dream. In the black and white Lion and Tamer (2015), the tamer, who has the appearance of the supervillain Penguin with the long nose, finds himself resisting strenuously in the mouth of the scary tiger, and he’s framed at the precise moment when in full control of his actions. A body seem to splinter into parts then reconfigure in Slow MotionShower (2015). The semi-private interior of the bathroom has the contours and boundaries of a shower curtain, that also acts as a playful backdrop, with a strong visual sensation of fresh and generous sky-blueliquid.  


Dana Schutz, Lion and Tamer, 2015, Charcoal on paper, 44 x 30 inches, Courtesy Petzel Gallery, New York © Dana Schutz. 


Dana Schutz, Slow Motion Shower, 2015, Oil on canvas, 78 x 72 inches, Courtesy Petzel Gallery, New York © Dana Schutz. 


Often compared to Austrian painter Maria Lassnig and German artist Martin Kippenberger, Schutz creates enigmatic disfigurements analogous to the time. Her “incendiary” painting based on a photograph of Emmett Till - a Black teenager who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 - titled Open Casket, at 2017 Whitney Biennial, sparked protest and infuriated. But it happened that Open Casket changed the art world. What appears to be different about today’s market is that the super-wealthy, mostly techentrepreneurs, invest in “red-chip” art, such as Dana Schutz, not for investment but for pleasure. They are buying it because they just want it. They want to touch with their hands what’s going on in the world.


Dana Schutz, Open Casket, 2016, Oil on canvas. Collection of the artist; courtesy Petzel, New York.



Cover image: Dana Schutz, Trump Descending an Escalator, 2017, Courtesy of Phillips © Dana Schutz.

Written by Petra Chiodi

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