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  • Provenance

    Frith Street Gallery, London; Private Collection, Germany

  • Catalogue Essay

    Although primarily known as a sculptor, Thomas Schütte's diverse practice ranges from drawing to model making to installation. These varying approaches allow him to constantly bring fresh perspectives to his ongoing exploration of the human condition and the complexities and contradictions of mankind's behaviour. Doppelkopf (Double Head), a contemporary interpretation of the two-faced Roman deity Janus, powerfully suggests the schizophrenic nature of human psychology. With their rusty, blood-ochre skin and deeply frowned brows, the eerie faces' exaggerated physiognomies exude the same sombre mood which permeates all of Schütte's figurative sculptures.
    Sculptural portraiture and the human figure have been a recurring theme for Schütte since the early 1980s. Whether executed in wax, clay, steel, bronze, or aluminium, freestanding, under glass domes or on plinths, such works both undermine and extend the long artistic tradition of figurative sculpture. Schütte's takes on the genre are recognizably influenced by his artistic precursors, yet uniquely his own. In Doppelkopf, while the weight and scale of each face immediately suggests the Modernist masters Maillol, Picasso and Moore, the heads' stylized, gargoyle-like features reveal an underlying, deeply unflattering, violent portrayal of man. Like Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacometti, Schütte has contorted the face to create an existential portrait full of torment, angst and gravity.
    Invoking themes such as history and memory, utopia and power, mortality and failure, Doppelkopf functions as a memorial, a relic of fallen public statues and monuments. Acutely aware of the artist's role in a modern Germany still coming to terms with the Holocaust and the legacy of Hitler, Schütte's work is constantly grappling with that darkest hour of history – most overtly in his recent Dirty Dictators, four monumental ceramic busts inspired by Socialist Realist and Fascist propaganda, which are an obvious evolution of the themes he first explored in the present lot. The opposing faces in Doppelkopf, like those of the god Janus, are trapped between a destructive past and an uncertain future, caught in the awkward space of an ambiguous present. As a former student of Gerhard Richter, Schütte is adept at using his practice to comment on the nature of art and the artist in history, a concept his teacher adroitly and satirically explored in his 1971 masterpiece Two Sculptures for a Room by Palermo.
    Revitalizing the ancient craft of earthenware, Schütte's Doppelkopf, like all the sculptures in his eclectic and copious oeuvre, is work of technical bravura. Pushing this most traditional of materials to its ultimate limits, the ceramic glazing process allows the artist to achieve a brilliant two-toned ochre patina and a vivid, visceral surface full of accidental markings and drips. While Schütte's physically painstaking working method is reminiscent of the macho sculptural attitude of Willem de Kooning, there exists in Doppelkopf – which is exhibited on a raw, unpainted plywood box – a clear sense of irony and ambivalence towards the notion of icons, art-making and beauty. In fact, the contrast between the technically masterful glazed ceramic double bust and its plain and simple wooden plinth perfectly encapsulates the duality in meaning pervading all of Thomas Schütte's work. The art historian Jan Thorn-Prikker has aptly described the artist's oeuvre as a "unique mélange of great earnestness, bitter irony and sarcastic scoffing".


Doppelkopf (Double Head)

Glazed ceramic and plywood pedestal.
Overall: 171 × 58.5 × 100 cm (67 1/3 × 23 × 39 1/2 in). 

£400,000 - 600,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £481,250

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

29 June 2010