Thomas Schutte – German, Sculptor and Draughtsman

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Thomas Schütte © Jörg Koopmann, May 2009

I first saw works by Schutte in 1999, when he exhibited in the Bernier/Eliades Gallery in Athens, Greece. What impressed me back then were the aluminum figures “Great Spirits”.

Thomas Schutte: Grosse Geister - Great Spirits - No 9 and 14, 1998, Photo courtesy of Bernier/Eliades Gallery

Some 13 years ago, the press release of Bernier/Eliades Gallery read like this:

‘THOMAS SCHÜTTE

January 16 – February 25, 1999

Thomas Schtutte was born in 1954, in Oldenburg,Germany. He lives and works in Dϋsseldorf.

“One of the most important German artists working in the late 20th century, Thomas Schütte’s installations, sculptures, models, drawings and watercolours can take many, often contradictory guises.

His art looks utilitarian, offering shelter, sustenance and companionship, yet delivers false promises and alien worlds: a museum that incinerates art; potatoes made of bronze; or the artist’s own ‘audience’, consisting of wooden stand-ins or metallic figures assembled before his work. Like Gulliver wandering through a Swiftian world of shifting scales, the viewer is immersed in a series of theatrum mundi, poetic yet dysfunctional utopias which alternate between the private and the public, the romantic and the sceptical.

The artist deploys a vivid spectrum of colours and a range of materials to revision the basic constituents – natural, cultural and political – of everyday life whilst exploring fundamental questions about the artist and society.”

(Thomas Schütte, Phaidon)

The exhibition will last until February 25, 1999.’

Thomas Schutte: Gross Geister, Palazzo Grassi, Venice

I met one of the great spirits again in Venice in late 2011, in Palazzo Grassi. The photo below is shaken and obscure, but it is better than nothing. The sculpture is enveloped by Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog.

The photo was taken under distress, as in spite of the fact that there was no reasonably priced catalogue, the policy of the Palazzo is not to allow photographs. I protest!

“The Grosse Geister came to life through the formation and molding of long strands of wax, which were 
then cast in aluminum. This explains their anti-monumental appearance: they are both robotic and organic, futuristic and absurd. The “great minds” referred to in this work’s title are contained in reflective aluminum shells, which passively absorb the shadows and forms of their environment. Despite their monumental size, they seem elastic, ready to move about the space as soon as the viewer looks away. This blending of contradictory elements results in these comic somewhat mischievous sculptures, through which Schütte gives mass and presence to vaporous beings.” (Source: Palazzo Grassi)

Thomas Schutte: Grosse Geister, Kunstplatz Graben, Wien, 2011

While I was in Venice, other great spirits were installed in Kunstplatz Graben, in Vienna. This time, they are black and look menacing. The neutral curiosity of the alumunium is replaced by the threatening black shining surface.

I quote from the October 2009 issue of “frieze” magazin’s review of the Thomas Schutte exhibition in Munich’s Haus der Kunst:

‘Schütte’s ‘Große Geister’ series stalked the entrance to the show, foreshadowing the exhibition’s partial focus on the figure and the artist’s ambivalent relationship to it. Melty, molten and reflective, these aluminium figures evince both menace and levity: part Darth Vader, part Pillsbury Doughboy. Outsized, they put the viewer at a disadvantage, an auspicious start to Schütte’s lecture on power relations. ‘

I have two comments on the Great Spirits:

  • The name chosen: we do not have a person, or a creature even. We have an entity that cannot be grasped by our senses, it is a Spirit.
  • The entity is a cross between the human form and a robot, although the Michelin Man also comes to mind (or SPirit?) for parts of the body.
Thomas Schutte: Efficiency Men, Punta della Dogana, Venice

Next meeting with Schutte’s work was in Punta della Dogana, in Venice yet again. This time I met with the “Efficiency Men”.

“These works explore states of conflict, isolation, disillusionment, despair and vulnerability, which are also echoed in his Efficiency Men(2005), spectral figures made out of thin steel spirals, wrapped in heavy blankets from which emerge three disquieting colored silicone faces. Grotesque masks of corrupt contemporary society, the three figures advance in space like prisoners in chains engaged in a forced patrol.”  

(Source: In praise of Doubt)

Thomas Schutte: Four Sisters in Bath, 1989, Tate Gallery

Before concluding, let us take a bath with the four sisters, let the water cleanse us and our Minds, Great and Small, silver and black, and lets hope that we get out of the sight of the Efficincy Men.

P.S. I thank Tate Gallery for inspiring me to add “… and draughtsman” to the title of this post.

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