Executed in 1993, Thomas Schütte's Untitled (Janus Head) offers a characteristically humorous, irreverent and subversive play on the architects and architecture of power. Perched atop an apparently precarious pedestal, the artist has created a contemporary Janus of warm, earthen ceramic. Sculpted by hand and cloaked in glaze, the tactile earthenware takes on a dark, lustrous patina. The two faces are conjoined, wed to one another in an ineluctable bond. Modulated with the artist's bare fingers, the faces are tactile, visceral and intensely human, their expressions legible to the viewer who interacts with them. Lips pursed and his eyes peering imperiously down his aquiline nose, one of the two faces has an air of authority and mastered disdain with thick, sculptural creases weathering his face. His alternate has small, round, piercing eyes, raised brows and bulbous cheeks taking on a look of petulance as if puffed up with antipathy towards his cohort. Janus was the Roman god who presided over all beginnings and transitions, the two heads symbolically reflecting the change and progress from past to future. In Untitled (Janus Head), we find a deity unable to transcend the present: Schütte's study for figures of authority presenting protagonists who are both imperfect and inadequate.
Created in 1993, Untitled (Janus Head) was undertaken shortly after the artist's visit to Rome to stay at the Villa Massimo in 1992. This was the same year as Schütte's sculptural installation Strangers at Documenta and it was here in Rome during the 'Clean Hands' political scandal, famously implicating Andreotti and Craxi, that Schütte decided to create a new sculptural vernacular. Through his sculpted figurative forms, Schütte began to tackle the corruption bound up with the armature of political power. In the United Enemies and Innocenti series (1992), the artist stripped back the smart suits and ingratiating smiles to reveal programmatic venality and duplicity. At the same time, the strangely sensual and bare faces appear vulnerable and fragile in their precarious positions. In Untitled (Janus Head), Schütte continues this searing deconstruction of power, the thin, towering tripod offering an air of anxiety. Standing next to the work, the viewer perceives the fragility of the hieratic head, as if ready to be supplanted at any moment.
It was during the 1980s that Schütte became increasingly concerned with the public realm and the public/political nexus. This became manifest not only in the artist's models for administrative buildings, the state's power houses, but also in the small-scale expressionistic figurines he began to produce in the style of memorials or monuments. In works such as Mann im Matsch (Man in Mud) (1982-1983), we see a tiny figure immortalised on a pedestal, apparently struggling in mud. In Kleiner Respekt (Little Respect) and Grosse Respekt (Large Respect) (1993-1994), we see male figures bound to their adversaries, wrestling for an uncertain power. Conceived following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the works recall those statues of despots being toppled across the former Soviet Union with the end of the Cold War. These concerns, those of the autocrat and his bureaucracy, have come to dominate Schütte's oeuvre ever since and are powerfully articulated in Untitled (Janus Head).