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Großer Geist Nr. 9
$3,000,000 - 4,000,000
sold for $3,375,000
Skarstedt Gallery, New York
Private Collection, United States
Phillips, New York, May 16, 2013, lot 8
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Winter Group Show, January 7 - February 18, 2012
“The things you cannot talk about – these are essential. I believe that material, form and color have their own language that cannot be.”–Thomas Schütte
An iconic example of Thomas Schütte’s inimitable sculptural oeuvre, Großer Geist, Nr. 9, 1998, presents us with a colossal monument to the human form. Towering 12 feet above the viewer, the larger than life figure is seemingly caught mid-stride with its arms outstretched. Executed in 1998, Großer Geist Nr. 9 is the ninth of in total 17 figurative sculptures from Schütte’s iconic series Große Geister, 1996-2004. Borne out of the artist’s pleasure in working intuitively with material and scale, all figures from this series, which loosely translates to “Big Spirits” or “Big Ghosts”, were originally formed from long strands of wax and then enlarged and cast in aluminum, bronze, or, as in this work, in corten steel – the most weighty of the three materials, which artistic forebears such as Donald Judd and Richard Serra also employed. Perfectly embodying Schütte’s signature play with contradictions, the imposing mass of Großer Geist, Nr. 9 is belied by the illusion of a cushioned, folded and fluid sculptural surface — one that the observer could perhaps manipulate with his or her own hands. Revealing a careful observation of human anatomy, the anthropomorphic figure’s gestures enliven the sculpture. At once imposing and harmless, fantastical and relatable, human and non-human, Großer Geist, Nr. 9 powerfully illustrates Schütte’s distinct ability to make manifest the contradictions, ambiguities and complexities of the human condition that was awarded the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion Award in 2005.
With Großer Geist, Nr. 9, Schütte has brilliantly built on the highly individualistic sculptural idiom that garnered him critical acclaim in the early to mid-1990s. Having studied under the tutelage of Gerhard Richter at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf throughout the 1970s, the German artist created his first figurative sculpture Mann im Matsch in 1982 and achieved his breakthrough with the installation Die Fremden (The Strangers) at the Documenta IX, Kassel, in 1992. Characteristically embracing a wide range of media and experimenting with scale, Schütte has consistently pursued the dictum, "I am interested in the grammar of character" (Thomas Schütte, "Ein Gespräch von Heinz-Norbert Jocks," Kunstforum International, no. 128, 1994, p. 252). The series Großer Geister evolved from a collaborative body of work that Schütte developed with the artist Richard Deacon in 1995. Entitled Them and Us, the series of small-scale aluminum figurative sculptures explored the relationship between man and monument, scale and space. As Schütte recalled of these figures, "They always relate to their surroundings, to the space, to the viewer, to each other" (Thomas Schütte, quoted in Matthias Winzen, "Collect Yourself. Ein Gespräch mit Thomas Schütte”, in Zuspiel. Siemens Kulturprogramm, Ostfildern, 1997, p. 111). Dramatically magnified in scale and entering the scene as on a theatrical stage, Große Geister sculptures such as the present one further Schütte’s investigation into the notions of spatial and visual relativity.
Following in the conceptual footsteps of Auguste Rodin, Alberto Giacometti and Henry Moore, Schütte presents us with an existential meditation on humanity in our contemporary day in age. Großer Geist, Nr. 9 exemplifies Schütte’s typically subversive reprisal of familiar forms. With its dramatic scale, it evokes the grand historical lineage of sculptural monoliths – from the enormous clay sculptures of Ancient China and Japan, to the Ancient Greek Kouros figures and Classical Roman edifices, but also 19th century German national memorial monuments. As Schütte notably pointed out, however, "I would rather talk with my hands and through forms and let these creatures live their own lives and tell their own stories. Avoiding certain fixed positions is important to me, avoiding being too classical or too predictable…That the works lead to essential questions is important" (Thomas Schütte, quoted in “Interview with Julian Lingwood”, Thomas Schütte, London, 1998, p. 22). With his characteristically critical reassessment of the figurative traditions in art, Schütte here transforms the mythological hero associated with the grand sculptural tradition into a more complex character by evoking a range of figures from popular culture. As Quinn Latimer has observed of this series, “Melty, molten…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” (Quinn Latimer, “Thomas Schütte: Haus Der Kunst”, Frieze Magazine, October 2009, online).
Subverting the stoicism of a traditional sculptural monument, Großer Geist, Nr. 9 is imbued with ambivalence. As Schütte himself acknowledged, his work is driven by the desire for "keeping things in the air for as long as possible…like in the third part of Gulliver's Travels, in Laputa, the floating island," (Thomas Schütte, quoted in "Ein Gespräch mit Thomas Schütte", Kunst-Bulletin, October 1994, p. 21). As in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, a saga filled with miniature and giant fantastical characters, Schütte's sculptural figures range from the small to the colossal. As Gijs van Tuyl has argued, “Swift's satire, often mistaken for a children's book, is reflected in Schütte's oeuvre insofar as he formulates perceptual and behavioral patterns that are taken for granted as open-ended questions due to the ambivalence of his figures" (Gijs van Tuyl, Contemporanea: Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, exh. cat., Fundación Juan March, Madrid, 2005, p. 196). Großer Geist, Nr. 9 confronts the viewer with a similarly fantastical ghost-like apparition. “One is reminded of those special effects, produced by the most advanced film techniques, in which a body materializes out of nothing, and can be transformed into another at any time,” Julian Heynen observed, “Are they [the Große Geister] science fiction characters from a strange world, stranded in ours...? Or might they not be strangely disguised human beings, frightening monsters highly expressive but acting in a meaningless way...? Whenever we try to banish them to a world of pure imagination, of playful fantasy, they reveal very human, even touching traits" (Julian Heynen, "Our World”, in Thomas Schütte, London, 1998, p. 102). Magnified to a colossal statuesque monument that appears both foreign and deeply familiar, Großer Geist, Nr. 9 powerfully straddles conflicting states of being – encouraging the viewer to re-consider his or her own position within the world.
Großer Geist Nr. 9
$3,000,000 - 4,000,000
sold for $3,375,000
New York Auction 16 November 2017