Dana Schutz (b. 1976)
Dana Schutz (b. 1976)
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Dana Schutz (b. 1976)

Bain de Soleil

Dana Schutz (b. 1976)
Bain de Soleil
signed and dated ‘Dana Schutz 2016’ (on the reverse)
Oil on canvas
188 x 213.5 cm. (74 x 84 in.)
Painted in 2016
Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin, Germany
Private Collection, USA
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Lot Essay

In Bain de Soleil, Dana Schutz fills her large-scale painting with the image of a glamourous woman lying on a beach, under the glare of a sweltering sun. As hinted at in the title (Bain de Soleil translates from the French as ‘to sunbath’), the figure of the woman is partly inspired by the advertisements for suntan lotion that Schutz saw as a child. Using this early memory, she enters into a dialogue about Western notions of beauty, and how it is portrayed in art in particular. The present work forms part of Schutz’s dynamic practice in which she draws inspiration from the issues facing contemporary society, often seen through the lens of the mass media. Combining striking figuration with sharp abstract geometries, Bain de Soleil epitomises the fragmented painterly language through which Schutz attempts to capture the complexities of human experience, a language admired internationally for its visceral power and resonance.

With her face shielded from the harsh effects of the sun by a large wide-brimmed hat, and her eyes hidden behind a pair of large sunglasses, we know little about the woman depicted here. Her contorted and tanned body is dressed in a simple white swimsuit, and adorned by a string of pearls that hangs down from her neck. She sits on a small beach towel, her only companion a neon-blue crab that scuttles across the sand at her feet. A large yellow sun beats down from the sky, its radiant heat palpable in the burnished, almost red, hues of her skin tones, and the deep shadows cast across her face. This scene of idyllic perfection is then disrupted by the looming dark wave that hovers ominously behind her, seemingly preparing to wash away the entire scene.

After hundreds of years celebrating the classical ideals of physical perfection, in the twentieth century artists began to question these assumptions. Picasso condemned our obsession with beauty, arguing that art should not be about prettiness, but instead should tackle the problems and concerns of society. Then, after the horrors of two world wars, Jean Dubuffet and Philip Guston continued Picasso’s Cubist reinterpretation of the female form, and in many ways Bain de Soleil is a continuation of this dialogue. “More than any other artist, Guston renders the messy contradictions and heartbreaking ambiguity of what it is to be a person,” says Schutz (D. Schutz, ‘The Weight of Things,’ in H. Cooper, et.al., Philip Guston Now, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000, p. 163). The artist has said that the images she saw in magazines of elegant sun kissed bodies lying on a beach were among the most beautiful women she had ever seen. Yet here, when rendered through the prism of Schutz’s unique way of seeing, it joins the pantheon of art historical depictions of women.

The painting was conceived as part of a project organized by Vogue magazine to celebrate their 125th anniversary. They selected a group of artists, including John Baldessari, Julie Mehretu, and Maurizio Cattelan to produce work of art on the theme of “What is Beauty?” The fashion house Marni then agreed to collaborate with the artists making a series of limited edition tote bags and t-shirts with the proceeds being split between HIV/AIDS charities in Africa and America.

By the time the present work was painted, Schutz had achieved international acclaim, hailed for her dark humour, pathos and erudite art historical imagination. Schutz seems to capture pivotal moments of life, suspended in dream-like states, caught between reality and fantasy. “I embrace the area between which the subject is composed and decomposing, formed and formless, inanimate and alive,” says the artist (D. Schutz, quoted at https://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/ dana_schutz.htm [accessed 27 May 2019]). Thus, Bain de Soleil , with its vision of life on the brink of destruction, represents the ultimate expression of this belief.

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