Thomas Schütte

[no title]


Not on display

Thomas Schütte born 1954
Lithograph on paper
Image: 640 × 950 mm
Purchased 1995


This is one of a portfolio of ten four-colour offset lithographs created from a group of sculptures collectively titled United Enemies 1993-4 (see Tate T07017-9). Schütte made eighteen pairs of small male figures bound to each other with string and tape and enclosed under a glass bell jar. He modeled the figures’ heads roughly by hand in coloured fimo, a modeling compound sold in toy shops. To make the bodies he wrapped and stuffed rags from various sources on a tripod of doubled beechwood dowel sticks, bound together in pairs at the base with masking tape and medical sticking plaster. Each couple stands on a shallow wooden plinth set on a tall section of terracotta-coloured plastic drainpipe. The figures are trapped shoulder to shoulder, either looking towards each other or looking away. Schütte photographed the characters’ heads and shoulders from close up against a black background and under a spotlight. He had the photographs enlarged and reprinted as lithographs. To enhance the intensity of the characters’ gaze, he highlighted the pupils on several of the prints (Tate P77754-7 and Tate P77759-61) with specks of typists’ correction fluid. The portfolio is subtitled ‘A Play in Ten Scenes’, referring to the theatre of public life. It was published by Yves Gevaert, Brussels in an edition of thirty-five.

The characters portrayed in United Enemies are men in their later years. With bald heads and faces set in such expressions as gravitas, pompous self-importance, grief, cunning, pride and glee, they evoke a group of ageing statesmen making public appearances. Greatly enlarged in relation to the sculptures’ small scale, the prints have a theatrical atmosphere which is emphasised by the portfolio’s subtitle. Each photograph may be read as capturing a significant moment of confrontation or withdrawal in the relationship between the two men portrayed. In several images one character is sharply in focus and looks outwards toward the camera as though speaking a monologue or an aside while the other, not in focus, looks in another direction as though he is thinking about something else. Although tied together, they appear mentally apart. In others, both characters face the same direction, as if in temporary partnership or agreement. Several of the couples are quite similar in appearance: their heads are modeled in the same colour and their garments are the same, suggesting that they are brothers of some affiliation and that their enmity may be internal to their party. Other pairs are more overtly different suggesting that they have been brought together from further afield. The dramatic effects of the spotlight, harshly illuminating some features and casting dark shadows over others, result in a sinister atmosphere. This is undercut by the comedy of Schütte’s caricature and his use of fimo, which confers child-like qualities to the figures. This comedy is more evident in the sculptures because of their small scale. The characters’ exaggerated expressions are reminiscent of the ‘character head’ busts created in the late eighteenth century by Austrian baroque sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-93) whose aim was similarly to ridicule and satirize a particular group of men.

Schütte began working on the United Enemies sculptures during a period spent in Rome where he had been awarded a grant to live and work. He was looking at classical sculpture, such as the Roman portraits of the Emperors housed in the Capitoline Museum. He has explained:

I was [in Rome] in 1992, the year there was this peaceful revolution in Italy where the heads of State and a lot of prominent people were being exposed and discredited and sent to jail. So the caricature and the satire was a reality ... The first big set of [United Enemies] was made in Rome. They are just sticks with a head on top and another stick that builds the shoulders. I used my own clothes to wrap them in and form the body. For me they were puppets and not related to classical art ... I disciplined myself to modeling each head for one hour only. They have no hair, so the face is more concentrated, more general.

(Quoted in Lingwood, p.29.)

United Enemies was preceded by a group of Old Friends 1992. Made in a similar manner, the figures are single and unfettered by partnerships. Their expressions are more subtle and generally inscrutable. Several have beards. In contrast to the United Enemies, Schütte photographed twelve Old Friends individually against a white background in natural light. Each photograph is titled with the character’s forename in the manner of a traditional portrait.

Further reading:
Neal Benezra, ‘Thomas Schütte: Ironic Outdoor Monuments’, Flash Art, January/February 1997, pp.80-3
Julian Heynen, James Lingwood, Angela Vettese, Thomas Schütte, London 1998, pp.26-9, 97, reproduced pp.26-9 and p.95 in colour
Thomas Schütte, exhibition catalogue, Sammlung Goetz, Munich 2001, pp.42, 56 and 106, reproduced pp.53-5 in colour

Elizabeth Manchester
January 2004

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