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Collections Browse Thomas Schütte

Collections Browse Thomas Schütte

Name
Thomas Schütte
Nationality
German
Life Dates
1954–
Gender
Male
Holdings (8)
2 photographs, 2 sculptures, 2 books, 2 edition prints/proofs

Wikipedia About Thomas Schütte

Thomas Schütte is a German contemporary artist. From 1973 to 1981 he studied art at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf alongside Katharina Fritsch under Gerhard Richter, Fritz Schwegler, and Benjamin Buchloh. He lives and works in Düsseldorf. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Thomas Schütte, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Like the lone figure in Caspar David Friedrich’s painting Wanderer in the Sea of Fog (circa 1818), Thomas Schütte is an aesthetic itinerant. His incredibly diverse body of work is difficult to categorize in that it encompasses a wide spectrum of media, form, scale, and approach. As he himself has suggested, “Doing my work is like hiking through the Alps and getting lost every ten minutes. It’s important to have different perspectives opening up all the time.”1 One could say that Schütte is a sculptor, but that wouldn’t tell the whole story. He is, rather, an artist who has spent his entire career interrogating the monumental in its various incarnations, moving deftly from the realm of the architectural to that of the figure.

In fact, for the past fifteen years or so, figuration has become a central concern for Schütte. By the early 1990s, after having spent the previous decade making functional architectural projects, sculptures resembling architectural models, and large-scale installations, he turned his attention almost exclusively to sculpting the human form. Although early on in his career he inserted small figures into his architectural models (ranging from store-bought Star Wars action models to his own handmade versions), this practice became the centerpiece of his United Enemies series, a breakout body of work begun in 1993. Subtitled “a play in ten scenes,” these sculptures consist of puppetlike forms whose heads are rendered in Fimo, a children’s modeling clay. Each figure features a distorted, hairless face reminiscent of a medieval gargoyle or a mask for carnival. They are individually wrapped in material taken from the artist’s discarded clothing and are then bound together with wire before being placed under a glass dome mounted on top of a tall, cylindrical plinth.

The Walker Art Center’s example from this series, Untitled, dates from 1995 and includes three of Schütte’s homunculi mercilessly bound together as if being prepared for an uncomfortable voyage to some level of Dante’s Inferno. What exactly is uniting these enemies? Are their grotesque visages the karmic results of some unknown historical misdeeds? These are strangely mute antimonuments, presenting their contents as if they were abducted from a display case in an anthropological museum or from a cabinet of curiosities. The theatrical impact is only heightened by Schütte’s decision to photographically reproduce the faces of these characters in his Innocenti (The Innocents) series. In these large black-and-white images, the faces of the so-called innocenti completely fill the frame, their chiaroscuro lighting accentuating every wrinkle, line, and corrupted fold of flesh. Always hung high on the gallery wall, these figures stare down defiantly, smirking at us with a knowing arrogance. Of what exactly are they innocent? One is reminded of Adolf Eichman or of Slobodan Miloševi´c, another breed of self-proclaimed innocenti of the twentieth century. In the end, however, these figures are simply puppets. They are mute containers that are open to our own projections, becoming a kind of screen on which memory and forgetfulness (both personal and historical) play out their duet.

As he has done so often to great effect, Schütte radically shifted his scale in a subsequent series of bronze sculptures that includes Bronze Woman IV (1998/2000). Here the artist also moves effortlessly from the register of the monumentality of history to that of modernism. Originally cast in steel, this series consists of nine heroically scaled but formally altered female nudes that each in its own way refuses to function within the traditional framework of monumental, figurative sculpture. Each figure rests on top of an oxidizing steel table whose brute materiality calls to mind the abstracted sculptural planes of Richard Serra’s work. The rigid geometries of these self-immolating, minimalist platforms stand in direct contrast to the biomorphic curves of the women’s bodies. Although these women emerged out of Schütte’s fascination with the heavy and at times brutal sculptures of Aristide Maillol and Henri Matisse, they resist that modern figurative tradition. One body flows over itself in great folds as it makes its way off the table, while another reclines in a supine position only to reveal a strange multiplication of her breasts. Bronze Woman IV lies flattened on her steel table unable to move under the weight of some unknown force. Perhaps her flatness is due to the gravitational pull of the monumental. It is the event horizon of that black hole that Schütte has spent his entire career trying to escape.

  1. From James Lingwood, “James Lingwood in conversation with Thomas Schütte,” in Julian Heynen, James Lingwood, and Angela Vettese, Thomas Schütte (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1998), 24. Schütte’s diverse approach to his work is in part the result of having studied at the famed Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in the 1970s under the tutelage of sculptor Fritz Swegler and painter Gerhard Richter.

Fogle, Douglas. “Thomas Schütte.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center

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