Thomas Schütte

Oldenburg Germany 1954, lives and works in Düsseldorf

Thomas Schütte’s Großer Respekt (1994) has the look of a model for a public square, the center of which is to have a large monument. The sculpture is reminiscent of the well-known work by Rodin, The Burghers of Calais, but in comparison to his tragic figures, the men ‘depicted’ by Schütte are sooner tragicomic. Bound together, they stand with their feet in a basin filled to the rim. Their arms make helpless gestures at an audience that hasn’t the least concern for them.

Schütte’s work is often humorous or ironic, but it also has a melancholy aspect. A recurrent theme in his work is the apparent impossibility of producing, in this day and age, an image which has comprehensible and fundamental meaning for everyone. Schütte was trained as a painter. The search for a more direct relationship between art and reality caused him to experiment from the start with alternative ways of exhibiting his work. Hanging his paintings on the walls of a museum never seemed quite enough to him.

At an early stage he began to make architectural models which were placed in a museum or exhibition space as sculptures but which – as models of thought or as models for other spaces – escaped the isolated world of art. In the architecture of these designs, he expresses the desire for communication or, on the contrary, the painful absence of this, and the way in which he formalizes the nature of that contact can often be humorous.

Schütte once said that the concept of improving the world remains interesting to him. This statement clarifies something about himself but also about the dilemma that faces almost every artist of his generation. The function that art once had, to adorn public space or memorialize, has become less and less self-evident. To some degree this ‘retreat’ of art from public life has been brought about by the artists themselves, but it is nevertheless symptomatic of a sense of loss with respect to collective ideals and objectives.

A number of smaller works by Thomas Schütte bear the common title United Enemies. Each of these works consists of two little men, tied together on a piece of pvc pipe which serves as a base, dressed in colorful scraps of fabric and placed under a bell jar for display. The faces resemble the character studies of Daumier: ruthless, yet imbued with a love of the human species. In their grotesque features, one can easily read anger, shrewdness and mutual distrust – and the types of concern that these wicked figures may well force upon each other. But one never knows with Schütte. They might as well be friends, united in word, but just as divided by their own plans and ambitions.

For more information on the artist see his website Thomas Schütte.