Thomas Schütte Double Cross 1988

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Artwork details

Artist
Title
Double Cross
Date 1988
Medium Steel
Dimensions Unconfirmed: 3820 x 2600 x 2600 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Purchased 2003
Reference
T11854
Not on display

Summary

Double Cross is a tall, free-standing sculpture composed of two elements. An enclosed chamber in the form of a square cross is supported above head height on four wedge-shaped buttresses in cross formation. The chamber is painted red; the surface of the base is sandblasted and has been allowed to rust. The sculpture was made in Italy according to Schütte’s instructions, based on a cardboard model he had constructed several years earlier. It was intended for display outdoors. The work was commissioned by the Christian Stein Gallery, Milan for an exhibition of Schütte’s sculpture and drawings there in 1988. The form of Double Cross has its origins in an image presented as part of a series of seven paintings on paper executed in 1981, collectively titled Haupstadt II (Capital II). These are black and white diagrammatic pictures of six imaginary geometric forms and a group of three bottles standing in a row. Each object (or group of objects) is starkly lit, casting dramatic shadows, and framed in a black oval. Schütte placed these symbol-pictures on a row of eight rectangular dummy pillars painted red for his exhibition von hier aus at the Messegelände, Düsseldorf in 1984. Also titled Haupstadt II 1981/4 (Collection Kunsthalle Hamburg), the work exists in a further version in which the pillars are simply two-dimensional boards. The Haupstadt II version of Double Cross depicts a roofed rectangular structure sitting on top of and apparently supported by a tall narrow wedge, broader at the bottom than the top, which tapers to an impossibly thin edge at the ground. In designing the sculpture, Schütte added buttresses of equal dimensions either side of the wedge, doubling it in the form of a square cross and making it possible for it to stand in reality. In a similar manner, he doubled the rectangular box on the top, adding a small rectangular window to each outer surface. The resulting structure echoes the mood in some of the early paintings of architectural settings by the Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) in the sense of bleak emptiness and stark isolation it portrays. Schütte has commented:

Many things come from sleepless nights. Sometimes I get up at five in the morning and make a sketch in the dark before I forget it. While I think about it, design it, decide where to put the screws, the object itself becomes very straightforward – because it doesn’t come from making, but from thinking. If these pieces relate to architecture it’s just that they are big forms, they need that scale to work. They are like scenery, and the viewer becomes part of the set ... I see a whole room in each piece, with the viewer as actor on stage.

(Quoted in Possible Worlds, p.72.)


Several other images from the Haupstadt II series were made first into cardboard maquettes and then into full-sized ‘model’ sculptures. Modell für ein Museum 1982 (Collection Kunsthalle Bern) is the most significant of these. Proposing a giant incinerator as the receptacle for art works, it presents a pessimistic reading of the relationship between the artist and the institution. Another of the image-models, Joker-Poker 1984 (Collection Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf), consists of two façades, a reference to theatricality and pretence which runs through much of Schütte’s work.

Schütte began building table-top maquettes in 1980 as a means of exhibiting sculptural proposals which would not be executed. An architectural intervention planned for the Westkunst trade fair in Cologne, consisting of a raised viewing platform, became the model Schiff (Ship) 1980. Together with Kiste (Box) and Bühne (Stage), the propostions became known as the Westkunst Modelle (Westkunst Models) and were animated by plastic Star Wars dolls and cut-out wooden figures to register scale. During the 1980s, models of various kinds became central to Schütte’s practice. These range from stage-like tableaux composed of painted board and plastic dolls, painted fabric banners and cut-out wooden facades witnessed by crowds of silhouetted figures, to table-top models of artists’ studios from which the human form is completely absent. Schütte employs three scales – 1:1, 1:5 and 1:20. He has explained: ‘I used a model because ... it’s very accessible to a variety of readings ... You can imagine it as the prototype for something bigger, or as something seen from the child’s point of view; [or] you can see it as a public theatre ... These are ways of imagining situations.’ (Quoted in Thomas Schütte 2002, p.40.) The use of models permits Schütte to retain a provisional status to his works; they are suggestions or propositions, not a claim to truth. However, with Double Cross the use of an industrial material, steel, takes the work beyond the maquette and the transitory status of wood or mdf and introduces a sense of permanence at odds with the model scale.

Further reading:
Thomas Schütte, exhibition catalogue, Kunsthalle Bern, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 1990, reproduced p.119 in colour
Possible Worlds: Sculpture from Europe, Institute of Contemporary Arts and Serpentine Gallery, London 1990, pp.69-79
Thomas Schütte: Scenewright; Gloria in Memoria; In Medias Res, exhibition catalogue, Dia Center for the Arts, New York 2002

Elizabeth Manchester
December 2003

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