It is a great honor to be able to present Thomas Schütte’s first solo exhibition in the Czech Republic.
Schütte, considered by many to be one of the most important representatives (along with Antony Gormley and Anish Kapoor) of international sculpture today, creates not only sculptures but also drawings. A central theme in his work is man and architecture. Reflections on the human condition always form the core of his interest, regardless of his choice of subject or materials (predominantly steel, bronze, ceramics, and glass). The most common questions that Schütte explores in his work are existential difficulties, cultural memory, the state of society and its many problems, and also people’s moods and efforts against the backdrop of their journey through life.
Thomas Schütte was born in 1954 in Oldenburg, Germany, and studied under Gerhard Richter and Fritz Schwegler at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. In the 1980s, he was a guest professor at the Hamburg University of Fine Arts. He has held countless exhibitions at leading galleries and institutions throughout the world, recently for instance at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (2004), the Haus der Kunst in Munich (2009), the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid (2010), the Serpentine Gallery in London (2012), Fondation Beyeler in Basel (2013), and the Kunsthaus Bregenz and Monnaie de Paris (both 2019). His Czech premiere in České Budějovice was preceded by an exhibition at Berlin’s Kolbe Museum and one in London, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art is planning a large retrospective showing in 2024. Schütte participated in the 2005 Venice Biennale, where he received a Golden Lion, a highly prestigious award for outstanding work. He also participated in the document exhibition in Kassel in 1987, 1992, and 1997. He lives and works in Düsseldorf.
Schütte’s work can be found in a number of public and private collections, including the DIA Center for the Arts in New York City, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Centre Pompidou in Paris, New York MoMA, London’s Tate Gallery, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
An unclassifiable artist with a highly personal approach to creating art that does not follow fashionable trends, Thomas Schütte continues to follow the advice given to him by his teacher at the Düsseldorf academy, Gerhard Richter: to find his own path by creating not a style, but a repertoire. Schütte has often said that he follows the right road, not the easy one. Although he has rejected the notion of repeating a style for the purpose of building a brand, he frequently revisits earlier subjects, questions, and forms in order to further shape, develop, and explore their meaning and range.
One could say that his work mixes the history of sculpture with the present day, when the enormous interest in rarely seen “classical” approaches to the study of the human body has led to an ongoing search for ways of using the figure to update various themes within the context of contemporary issues. Making frequent use of humor and irony, Schütte manages to use his distinctive typology to critically comment on serious issues of human existence.
An integral part of Schütte’s art is his interest in architecture, specifically the question of how to place architecture in direct relation to life. The roots of this interest reach all the way back to the 1980s, when Schütte found inspiration in the culture of building and in theoretical discussions associated with the work of some architects. He was greatly influenced in particular by Aldo Rossi, whose Teatro del Mondo Schütte saw in Venice in 1980. Along with Rossi’s theoretical research, which Schütte called an “archetype” for much of his expressive vocabulary, this highly impressive and contextually placed life-size model formed an important point of reference for Schütte. Drawing from history while working with architectural metaphors, he creates allegories of his view of the world. The “model” proves to be of fundamental importance as a significant medium in Schütte’s work, and not just in relation to architecture. It also reflects his commentary on contemporary society and on the mechanisms by which society functions both culturally and politically. We thus encounter works in which the museum is a furnace at a crematorium and modernism is interpreted as a form of terrorism with churches or houses for a single person that can be both refuge and prison, but also examples in which architecture does not arouse any serious interest, as for instance a parking garage or a gas station.
In recent years, some models have been transformed into actual buildings thanks to an interest on the part of private individuals who use them for housing. In 2016 in Neuss near Düsseldorf, Schütte opened a sculpture gallery in a building constructed on the basis of one of his models, where he shows his works and those of other artists. Last April, the construction of an addition produced a remarkable complex sensitively placed into the surrounding landscape that houses an extensive archive of Schütte’s work.
The exhibition in České Budějovice could be called an intimate yet representative tour of Schütte’s oeuvre. Besides prints and drawings the exhibition shows three central themes in his work: architectural Models, the subject of Heads, and a small selection from his extensive cycle titled United Enemies.
In this last series, Schütte was inspired by the ugly old men whom he would see while traveling by bus during his six-month stay in Rome, by the local, mutually antagonistic art administrators, and by politicians from television news reports about corruption scandals, since “these lying faces” were in the media all the time. He was led to create the series mainly by his interest in the portrait as a genre characteristic of this city, which for centuries has been associated with the culture of portrait sculpture.
With his Heads, Schütte has deliberately subverted the dignified form of the bust. For instance, the male figures from the cycle Old Friends do not feel like important figures but like men who have given up on life. Schütte’s emphasis is on expressions, on different typologies and physiognomy. The works also reflect his interest in a certain grotesque hyperbole. The Egg Heads, too, are not actual portraits but rather archetypes that act as a surface onto which viewers can project their individual thoughts and reflections.
With his selection from the Architectural Models cycle, Schütte presents his imaginary world and shares his personal reflections on the status of man and on how architecture can shape space or influence society.
Wrote about the exhibition