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Thomas Schütte's Bitter Humour Themes on View at Haus der Kunst
Thomas Schütte, From the series "One Man Houses", 2003-05. Architectural models. Wood, colour, perspex, ca. 250 x 130 x 150 cm. Photo: Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery © Thomas Schütte / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2009.
MUNICH.- Artist Thomas Schütte (b. 1954), who is based in Düsseldorf, will present a larger than life bronze sculpture in his native town of Oldenburg. Entitled "Man in Mud" (Mann im Matsch), the 1:1 Styrofoam and plaster model of this work is 5,80 meters high and forms the centre of the exhibition at the Haus der Kunst.

Since the early 1980s Thomas Schütte has been working on a series of related works with the same title, thematising with bitter humour moments of human isolation, disillusionment, vulnerability and hopelessness. The viewer is confronted with a monumental sculpture in the Haus der Kunst. The monumentality and auratisation within the museum context and, in particular, the Haus der Kunst's national socialist architecture claim to eternity are undermined by this failed figure: the "Man in Mud" (Mann im Matsch) as an anti-monument. Other works surrounding this series, "Large Respect" (Großer Respekt), "Small Respect" (Kleiner Respekt) and "Innocenti" (all from 1994), are presented opposite the "Man in Mud" in the exhibition.

Thomas Schütte became well-known for his architectural models in the 1980s: designs that exhaust the capacity for radical simplification and exaggeration. And also for his sculptures: The range of these spans from moulded ceramics to monumental and often deformed female sculptures to the voluminous "Big Spirits" (Große Geister). Initially Schütte's artistic activity was dominated by the artist's social position, as well as by possible production and presentation conditions. Today it is the structures of society, including their political and power topology and their impact on individual life-styles that form the focal point of the artist's works.

The exhibition wishes to test the relevance and the topicality of Schütte's works - the significance of the works in regard to contemporary social political systems characterized by fragility and instability. In the most varied of mediums - "clear signals for unclear circumstances" (Ulrich Loock) - Thomas Schütte finds equally concise images that depict ambivalence, tension and conflict, on both an individual and a socio-political level.

Oriented towards these themes and with works dating from the mid-80s to the present, the exhibition provides an overview of the artist's multi-faceted works, which are characterized by various excursions into materials as well as formats. Works on view include photographs, works on paper, architectural models, installations and sculptures.

New watercolours: "Deprinotes"
Since the beginning of his artistic career, Thomas Schütte has created an extensive œuvre of works on paper. He creates series or cycles, executed in watercolours, ink and various coloured and lead pencils, dedicated to specific subjects. Mixed into these works on paper are ironic commentaries on contemporary events, critical reflections, observations and insights. This is particularly true of his most recent watercolour series, "Deprinotes" (2006-2008), which has never been presented to the public. Free of self-censorship, these works draw on classical motifs, such as still lifes of flowers, fruit or vegetables.

The "Mirror Drawings" (1998-1999) are self-portraits that Schütte created over the course of a year while gazing into a shaving mirror. Here Schütte dares to approach himself through the image of his outer appearance. The artist declares the attempt as failed: "I thought I would do this for a year and then one would know who one is. (...) I was totally disappointed because they expressed nothing (...). It was thus an attempt to get wise to one self and it really was a disaster." (Thomas Schütte) Above all, Thomas Schütte's watercolours demonstrate that the figure, whether it be his own or someone else's, remains impersonal and, in the end, all readings of it are only a reflection of the viewer's own imagination.

Schütte often presents his works on paper in conjunction with sculptural works. Watercolours are integral components of the installation "Melonely" (1986). Fourteen watercolours depict strongly schematized pieces of melons that are closely related to the eleven-part, space-encompassing wood sculpture. In the mid-1980s, Thomas Schütte began drawing fruit and vegetables. He regards these works as a "way out of the gloominess of the early 80s", as a way to satiate his appetite for images and as a reaction to the constraints of conceptualism that had become defining and academic. The title's play on words also alludes to an emotional level that the sweetness of the fruit obliterates only temporarily.

Architectural models and installations
The architectural models represent a method in which the form is developed only to the extent of formulating a thought.

With his "Model for a Museum" (Modell für ein Museum, 1982) Thomas Schütte expresses his criticism of the institutionalized "exclusive power" museums possess. Artists can bring their works to this building to be burned - an institution open to all artists, however, as a place for the destruction for art. The installation "Rubbish" (Schrott, 1986), provides an interior view of this model; it depicts an art depot in which rejected drawings are stored in racks ready to be burned in a blast furnace that is drawn on the wall.

On the whole, the "Crusade Models" (Kreuzzug Modelle, 2002-2006) represent societal structures with its value systems, as well individual states of mind. The title of the series is an echo of George W. Bush's propagation for a 'crusade' against Islamic countries after 11th September 2001. With his models Schütte picks up on the discussions around the architectural handling of 'Ground Zero' as a 'symbolic societal and urban attempt at healing' (Dieter Schwarz). Thomas Schütte's starting point is the neutral view of the existing. Next to functional structures, such as "Garage Germany" (Tanke Deutschland, 2002), this work series structures for precariously marginal figures (compare with "Holiday Home for Terrorists" [Ferienhaus für Terroristen], 2002).

Women and Big Spirits
From the central sculpture group "Women" (Frauen, 1998-2006), six larger than life female nudes in bronze, steel or aluminium - apparently reclining, sitting or kneeling - are presented on identical rusting steel tables. With references to Maillol, Rodin and, subsequently, Matisse, this series of nudes has often been erroneously interpreted as a return to and the continuation of the achievements of pre-modern sculpture.

Although "the natural human body serves as the organizing system for sculptural formulation in these works, it is nonetheless not its object." (Ulrich Loock) Rather, Thomas Schütte employs a traditional iconographic vocabulary as a starting point and as a working material, thereby putting the question of its validity in the forefront. The complex forms of the sculptures change in an unusually radical manner depending on the viewer's position. The individual elements occasionally appear to contradict each other. These compositions are thus materialized deconstructions of female images that, in part, have been formulated and built up by traditional lines of a pictorial vocabulary. "The first one (...) had several faces, a Picasso face, Walt Disney arms, a Matisse body and picture-book breasts. It was a synthesis." (Thomas Schütte)

Like the architectural models, the sculptures of women are presented on tables. His "Women" have the character of a study, something that is emphasized by their presentation on workbenches rather than solid pedestals. Presenting his models on tables, Thomas Schütte puts them up for discussion.

The "Big Spirits" (Große Geister, 1995-2004) can be regarded as male counterparts to the female sculptures. Like the latter, these are larger than life, have clumpy limbs and rudimentary physiques. The "Big Spirits" are enlargements of small figures made of waxed string; with this easily malleable material Thomas Schütte was able to experiment with the figures' posture and gestures without being tightly bound to static conditions. Like Rodin's "Buergers of Calais," Schütte's "Big Spirits" occupy the same level as their viewers; each makes a significant and individual gesture. However, the reference point of the spirits' gestures is missing. Although their postures are understandable, their meanings are not. The staging of their bodies' stylistic function is emphasized.

The works presented in the exhibition testify to Thomas Schütte's preference for experimentation with the most varied techniques and his unusual keenness for materials. Thomas Schütte regards productive transgression as his method of advancement: "As an artist one can do everything wrong and afterwards it turns out perfectly right and vice-versa." (Thomas Schütte)

The puns and sharp humour in Schütte's titles feign an unbiased interaction with complex subject matters. When examined more closely, however, the titles reveal themselves as a pointed and unrelenting commentary of the represented.

The exhibition in the Haus der Kunst is the first presentation of the artist's work in a Munich museum. It is curated by Patrizia Dander and Thomas Weski.


Haus der Kunst | Munich | Thomas Schütte | George W. Bush | Dieter Schwarz | Maillol | Rodin | Matisse |


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