Thomas Schütte

[no title]


Not on display

Thomas Schütte born 1954
Resin, fabric, printed papers, tape, plaster, wood, glass and plastic
Displayed: 1910 × 260 × 260 mm
Purchased 1995


This is one of three sculptures in Tate collection (see Tate T07018 and T07019) which are part of a larger group collectively titled United Enemies 1993-4. Schütte made eighteen similar sculptures each comprising a pair of small male forms bound together and sealed under a glass dome mounted on a cylindrical pillar. He modeled the figures’ heads by hand in coloured fimo, a modeling compound sold in toy shops. The bodies are stuffed rags swaddled on a tripod of doubled beechwood dowel sticks. Schütte bound them in pairs 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. Some are trapped facing towards each other; others look away. The figures have bald heads and deeply incised features; their caricatured expressions are reminiscent of the ‘character head’ busts created in the late eighteenth century by Austrian baroque sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-93). The figures in this sculpture are individually clothed in torn cotton fabric. The shorter character is wrapped in a piece of blue cloth. A piece of masking tape around his waist secures a yellow toothbrush to his side. His head is marbled pale blue and white with darker blue eyes. He wears a white plastic spray can lid with a small round red sticker on the front as a hat. His partner is wrapped in a fragment of striped yellow fabric bound around the neck and waist with string. His head and prominent neck are opaque white and his eyes are deep red. Schütte photographed the sculptures’ heads and shoulders close up against a black background and under a bright light. He created a portfolio of ten offset lithographs in an edition of thirty-five from the photographs (see Tate P77752-P77761) subtitled ‘A Play in Ten Scenes’, referring to the theatre of public life. The sculptures were initially installed with the prints, resulting in disorientating disjunctions in scale.

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.)

Until the end of the 1980s, Schütte’s use of the human figure was mainly restricted to plastic dolls or silhouetted cut-outs in wood used ostensibly as scale referents in various kinds of models. Teppichmann (Carpet Man) 1988 (private collection, Madrid) and Mohr’s Life 1988 (Flick Collection, Zürich) feature small figures made of hand-modeled fimo heads placed on a tripod of dowels sticks bound with old garments and string. Their expressions are inscrutable; they are emblematic portraits representing the ambivalences and absurdities of the artist’s life. Schütte’s move to Rome followed the installation of his group of terracotta figures, Die Fremden (The Strangers) 1992 (see Tate T07873) on the neo-classical façade of a building at Documenta IX in Kassel, Germany. Created in response to rising neo-fascism in Germany and questioning public attitudes towards the growing influx of immigrants, Die Fremden took a deliberately ambiguous political stance. By contrast, United Enemies constitutes an overt critique of the patriarchs of political life represented through the use of façade, a theme prevalent in Schütte’s work. As bodiless heads on sticks, inextricably bound to each other in perpetuity, the puppet-figures in United Enemies evoke the masks which politicians may wear and the unwelcome alliances into which they may be forced by political circumstance or personal greed.

Further reading:
Neal Benezra, ‘Thomas Schütte: Ironic Outdoor Monuments’, Flash Art, January/February 1997, pp.80-3, reproduced p.80 in colour
Julian Heynen, James Lingwood, Angela Vettese, Thomas Schütte, London 1998, pp.26-9, 97, reproduced pp.28-9 and p.95 in colour
Thomas Schütte, exhibition catalogue, Sammlung Goetz, Munich 2001, p.42, reproduced pp.10 and 56 in colour

Elizabeth Manchester
January 2004

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