Thomas Schütte - Contemporary Art Part I New York Wednesday, May 11, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Bernier/Eliades, Athens

  • Catalogue Essay

    So as far as meanings are concerned, I would rather talk with my hands and through forms and let these creatures live their own lives and tell their own stories.


    (James Lingwood in conversation with Thomas Schütte in Thomas Schütte, London, 1998 p. 22)

    Thomas Schütte has generated some of the most resonant figurative sculpture of the last generation with his deft and virtuosic handling of traditional media. Utilizing seemingly anachronistic means, Schütte has consistently addressed issues and emotions that contain kernels of the eternal within the hull of the immediate.

    From life-sized figures fabricated in ceramic as in Die Fremden (The Strangers),1992 to miniaturized monuments cast in bronze as in Grosser Respekt, 1993-94, Schütte has exploited transitions in scale and materials to great effect throughout his career. Nowhere is his mastery so exemplified as in the series United Enemies.

    While living in Rome in 1992, Schütte continued his interest in classical sculpture by visiting the Capitoline Museum to see the vast collection of Greek and Roman statuary. In addition he was deeply impressed by the many Bernini fountains gracing the city and he began working on a series of sculptures in Fimo clay and cloth. He had explored these media briefly a few years earlier and had finished two works Teppichmann (Carpet Man) and Mohr’s Life. Both provided opportunities for the artist to fully explore the immediacy of clay to express a full range of facial expressions. By eliminating the process of fabrication, Schütte was able to instantaneously convey emotion. This intimacy with the materials is further expounded by his use of his own clothes to drape the figure.

    With Mohr’s Life, Schütte had explored single figures engaged in narratives from his own life as an artist, United Enemies departs from the autobiographical. Composed of two male figures bound together with string and enclosed under a glass bell jar each figure’s destiny is entwined with his antagonist’s. Sometimes facing each other and sometimes looking in opposite directions, their wizened expressions range from sly to disdainful to foolish. Schütte sees them as enjoyable, not threatening and says ‘I didn’t find them cruel, I just found them funny.’ Much as Bruce Nauman with his Henry Moore Bound to Fail was addressing classical sculptural concerns with a serious humor,
    Schütte has used the act of restraint in United Enemies to conflate the formal concerns of draping with tragicomic sentiment.

    Schütte refers to the figures as puppets, but not as the diminutive dolls of children’s theater. At the time of the series’ inception, the city was embroiled in the ‘Clean Hands’ investigation, which brought to light an entrenched system of bribery and corruption throughout Italian politics. All the major parties, right and left, had played along with this system and profited from it. A generational shift was occurring and there was a widespread feeling of disgust at the ageing politicians and businessmen who had ruled Italy since the Second World War. While Schütte’s are not caricatures of individual politicians, United Enemies can be seen as the condemnation of public duplicity, offering an image of life as a grotesque theatre of masks and effigies. The faces are morphed and distorted, expressing shrewd and unpleasant, but ultimately ineffectually comic natures.


United Enemies

Two figures: Fimo, fabric, wood, glass and PVC.
73 1/2 x 10 x 10 in. (186.7 x 25.4 x 25.4 cm). Figure height 13 1/2 in. (34.3 cm.)
Signed and dated “Th. Schütte 1995” on the underside of the low wood base.

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for $1,022,500

Contemporary Art Part I

12 May 2011
New York