Thomas Schütte - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 15, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Skarstedt Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Winter Group Show, January 7 - February 18, 2012

  • Catalogue Essay

    “The things you cannot talk about - these are essential. Some answers can’t be spoken. I believe that material, form and colour have their own language that cannot be translated.”

    Perhaps no other contemporary sculptor has produced such a wide and varied oeuvre as Thomas Schütte. From his seminal United Enemies series, with its clay grotesques
    wrapped together in fabric to his Große Kopfe (large heads) in ceramic, his creative materiality has led to figures that defy our monumental expectations of sculpture; instead of a tribute to the gods in their image, Schütte has given us creatures both hilarious and sinister, all infinitely relatable to the human condition. Aside from the personality of his figures, however, Schütte has also employed the common tools of sculpture to his manipulative benefit: in his Großer Geist series, the large spirits themselves are cast in enormous stature, but feature qualities that run contradictory to their size. The present lot, Großer Geist, Nr. 9, 1998, is paradigmatic of this paradox, a creature huge in size but great of heart, solid in medium yet liquid its shape-shifting brilliance.

    Schütte’s early work was greatly informed by his training. As a student under Gerhard Richter, Schütte’s university years introduced him to alternative methods of painting, in which illusion and ambiguity deliver a depth charge in meaning as powerful as proper figure portrayal. In terms of sculpture, his first major work featured small-scale architectural models, based in an urban utopian reality, and featuring minimal design properties. Even here, we can view Schütte’s early adoption of the tenets of sculptural simplicity— concentrating attention on the object itself as opposed to any indulgent intricacies. In addition, Schütte’s architectural minimalism, first on display at the exhibition “Westkunst” in Cologne during 1981, shows us a young artist fascinated with monumentalism, his monoliths presented as single objects as opposed to functioning models meant for realization.

    By 1995, Schütte was already fully immersed in his United Enemies series, exploring the relationship between hatred and love. But his interests soon turned to larger-scale
    work, and his Großer Geist series began to take form. Cast in either aluminum, polished bronze, or Cor-Ten steel, the Großer Geists are among the recognizable of Schütte’s works, most over eight feet tall and massive both in scope and weight. While United Enemies was based in conflicting personalities amongst equals, the Großer Geists are at once more severe and more philosophical. Their severity lies in their appearance— their obvious size, compounded with their monstrous Golemesque appearance, makes for a imposing sculpture to state the very least. But the according sculptural features, such as their smooth, almost disintegrating appearance and softy defined limbs and faces, lend them a strange air of harmlessness. It is as if Schütte has decided to make a band of approachable monsters, born into the chains of gigantism but making the very best of an unfortunate situation. In creating these sculptural oxymorons, Schütte prompts us to question our own physical and emotional incongruities.

    Großer Geist, Nr. 9, 1998 is Schütte’s tribute to nature’s tricks. Measuring over eight feet in height, Schütte’s massive monster has several stages of impressions for the
    observer. The first, at the viewer’s most distant perspective, is the obvious enormity of the object. Straddling the ground as if treading the snows of a mountainous wasteland, the present lot’s medium, Cor-Ten steel, has been trusted for decades by artists such as Richard Serra and Donald Judd for its ability to resist natural corrosion by developing a protective layer of rust. In Schütte’s sculpture, the color of the surface only contributes to its terrifying neutrality of detail, recalling the enormous clay
    sculptures of Ancient China and Japan, meant to depict the imposing status of the gods.

    But upon closer inspection, Schütte’s monster displays a physical softening and familiarity of posture. The great legs of Großer Geist flow down to its anonymous feet almost as columns of coiled clay, lending a gentle tactility to the misunderstood beast. This particular texture appears again in the shoulders and crown of the sculpture, a
    feature both decorative in and vital to the statue’s physicality. Elsewhere, slight folds in the upper torso and lower torso give the illusion of a cushioned, malleable surface—one that the observer could perhaps manipulate in his own hands. The stance, portrayed mid-stride, presents us not with a violent fend, hell-bent on wreaking havoc, but rather with the outstretched arms and bent wrists of a curious child.

    Finally, in the most intimate observation of the viewer, a face betrays the amiable spirit within. Though Schütte casts his figure with a certain severity in facial feature, such
    as the angular beard and nose, the Großeri Geist’s expression is downcast, hiding his stern features in a bashful, almost endearing manner. In sum, Schütte’s creature is both monumental and subtle, both brutal in stature yet kind in countenance.

    Großer Geist, Nr. 9, is intimidating in its possibilities for philosophical analysis. While the monumental stature of the sculpture is ripe for discussion of Schütte’s allusions to the past, namely to a German culture in which monumentalism has been practiced as a national pastime, the present lot is more primed for an investigation into the human condition, where one can easily allow the prejudices of physicality inform our evaluations of others: “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.” (Q. Latimer,
    “Thomas Schütte: Haus Der Kunst”, Frieze Magazine, October 2009) Indeed, the power struggle is at work within each of Schütte’s sculptures, where the contrast between inner life and outward display intensifies with every proximate step.

    Allowing the conflicting states of being to exist within his sculptures, Schütte has allowed ambiguity to be one of the most powerful forces at play within his body of work. In the present lot, this ambiguity gives way to not to finite meaning, but rather to the viewer’s continued exploration of his relationship to the Großer Geist—a progressively more complex interaction: “Taking his art as a totality, as we must, doesn’t mean that everything is equal, or that there aren’t better or worse pieces, major and minor works. Nor does the fact that Schütte does many things mean that his art lacks a centre. Rather, it signals a deeper sense that there are many paths and stories an
    artist might tell. Most artists only ever do one thing. In Schütte’s case, the cumulative effect gets more powerful the more he produces, the more directions he goes in, the more he complicates things. This is rare.” (A. Searle, “Is that Allowed?”, The Guardian, July 27, 2004)

    Großer Geist, Nr. 9 is a powerful example of how, when viewed in relation to the other works in an artist’s oeuvre, we can observe a very special symbiosis. While the sculpture represents Thomas Schütte’s movement inward, toward investigating the contradictory properties that we all possess, it also gives us a face in which we may view
    our own inherent complexities. Hopefully, we can look into the eyes of Schütte’s friendly monster—and smile.


Großer Geist Nr. 9

Cor-Ten steel
98 3/8 x 50 x 55 in. (249.9 x 127 x 139.7 cm.)

$3,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Sold for $4,085,000

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Sale
[email protected]
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York 16 May 2013 7pm