• Grosser Geist Nr. 6

    • Thomas Schütte’s monumental piece Grosser Geist Nr. 6 is part of his most iconic and emblematic series. The work materializes the ungraspable complexities of the human condition and mankind’s irresolvable quest for self-actualization. The seventeen sculptures that make up the Grosser Giester series are translated as “Big Spirits” or “Large Ghosts.” All possess powerful but differentiated positions that are cast in aluminum, polished bronze, and Cor-Ten steel. Several pieces from this series are found in distinguished museum collections, including the Kunstmuseum Wolfburg, Centre Pompidou, Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago, and Beyeler Foundation.

      The Grosser Geister series stems from Schütte’s long-standing interest in the language of character and its malleability when placed in different contexts. The origin of this predilection first emerged in Schütte’s architectural installations from the 1980s, through which he explored the boundless possibilities of associative memory and narrative development.

      Figures began to appear in Schütte’s work, although at a much smaller physical scale, in the late 1980s; one can recall works such as Laufbahn, 1987 and Mohr’s Life, 1988. However, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that the figure would become so integral to his practice. In 1992, Schütte fabricated De Fremden (The Strangers) for Documenta IX, comprising of thirty large glazed ceramic objects representing human figures, luggage, and vases all placed on the façade of a classical building next to the Museum Fridericianum in Kassel. The piece commented on the unstable position occupied by displaced migrants assimilating into contemporary German society. Another series that focused on figures are the contorted and misshapen sculptures of Untitled Enemies, 1993. It served to portend Schütte’s use of the human figure as a point of departure for more conceptual preoccupations. 

      A direct relationship can be drawn between the Grosser Geister series and his preceding smaller-scale figures named Kleiner Geister. The Kleiner Geister series was the output of a collaboration with Richard Deacon centered around the exhibition Them and Us at Lisson Gallery in 1995. When reflecting on the exhibition, Schütte remarked, “Richard and I had a fantastic discussion […]. We developed our things separately, and we brought them together and then had a discussion about scale, monuments, man and animal, man and man, man and light, space and colour and so on… all of these basic problems. We made twelve pieces – you could call them model situations. The gallery was our playground.”i This series marked a distinct shift in Schütte’s practice away from overt socio-political critiques towards decontextualized human forms, rendering the multifaceted psychological architecture of the human mind. 


      Alberto Giacometti, L'Homme Qui Marche I, 1960, bronze. © The Estate of Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Giacometti, Paris and ADAGP, Paris), licensed in the UK by ACS and DACS, London, 2021

      The Grosser Giester series demonstrates Schütte’s ability to capture the unpronounceable convolutions that purvey the human spirit, particularly the transience one feels in the face of unalterable mortality. All of the seventeen figures are presented in mid proclamation, mid gesture, fluctuating precariously between two states. With its arms outstretched in what feels like a final foray into the unknown, Grosser Geist Nr. 6 occupies a space of hybridity, between earthly materiality and ethereal divinity. To achieve this sense of lightness, Schütte partly eschews naturalistic sculptural practices and adopts an abstracted visual language, most pertinently deployed through the gradual elimination of his figures’ facial features. Schütte has claimed, “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. I always hope that in the end the work will be physically present. That the works lead to essential questions is important.”ii

      Critics have frequently commented on the perceived otherworldliness and artificiality of the  forms of the sculptures. Julian Heynan has pondered, “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.” iii Whilst the identities of the figures have been absolved and extracted, the concrete physicality of their gestures render them relatable not exclusively as bodily organisms, but also as metaphysical beings. 


      Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space,  1913,  Bronze, On loan from the State of Baden-Württemberg since 1986, Germany, bpk Bildagentur / Kunsthalle, Mannheim / Cem Yücetas / Art Resource, NY

      Schütte’s sustained preoccupation with dramaturgy, staging, and the ‘grammar of character’ is a crucial element of the Grosser Geister series. When speaking about the series Schütte once remarked, "They stood around for a while and played various roles, each time with something else," recalls Schütte. "They always relate to their surroundings, to the space, to the viewer, to each other."iv Schütte’s range of cultural references is vast, ranging from early Greek sculptures to Star Wars models, perhaps alluding to humanity's perpetual desire to project ourselves onto objects. 

      The Grosse Geister series is a holistic rumination on the human condition's multifaceted and transient state. The power of Nr. 6, lies not only in its statuesque grandeur but in its unsettling and alluring ability to evade definitive interpretation. Frozen in a powerful but unknowable pose, the figure operates within a suspended, supernatural reality, somewhere between capitulation and provocation.

      i  T. Schütte, quoted in Thomas Schütte, London, 1998, p. 25.

      ii  T. Schütte, quoted in Thomas Schütte, London, 1998, p. 22.

      iii  J. Heynen, "Our World," in J. Heynen (ed.), Thomas Schütte, London 1998, p. 102.

      iv  T. Schütte, quoted in M. Winzen, "Collect Yourself. Ein Gespräch mit Thomas Schütte," in M. Winzen (ed.), Zuspiel. Siemens Kulturprogramm, Ostfildern 1997, p. 111).

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