PROPERTY FROM THE DONALD AND SHIRLEY WEESE YOUNG COLLECTION WITH PROCEEDS INTENDED TO BENEFIT ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS
Post Lot Text
Standing high upon a jet-black plinth, the statuesque figure in Vater Staat (Father of State) exudes a calm authority over his surroundings. Only a finely detailed bronze head is visible, while his body and arms, which are swathed tightly in voluminous black and white chequered cloth, remain ambiguous. The figure appears wise and solemn; his features are sunken with age, his mouth is firmly set, and his deep-set eyes stare ahead stoically. Sculpted by the German artist Thomas Schütte in 2007, the strong modeling of the work conveys a palpable impression of the artist’s touch. The detail within the chiselled face and the robust manipulation of the cloth, bound by a black cord that passes across the figure’s body like a sash, all showcase Schütte’s decisive and skilled handling of his materials. Every intimate aspect of the sculpture has been carefully considered, but not without sacrifice to the impression given by the whole: the hands-on, expressive aspects of the work are deliberately balanced with the harder textures and industrial implacability of the steel and bronze. “You have to create a balance between the big things on one hand,” Schütte told Hans Ulrich Obrist recently, “… which are not physically taxing, and the small, lyrical, handmade things on the other” (T. Schütte, quoted at http://moussemagazine.it/articolo.mm?id=677). Placing the delicate figure on top of a smooth steel base raises it to nearly three times its normal height, which channels our vision towards the figure, and emphasizes its commanding presence.
Executed on a variety of scales and in a range of materials from bronze to wax, work by Schütte that shares the title and themes of Vater Staat (Father of State) have been exhibited all over the world, and are currently on public display outside the Art Institute of Chicago and also at the Neuen Nationalgalerie in Berlin. In Schutte’s critically acclaimed exhibition, Thomas Schütte: Faces and Figures at the Serptentine Gallery in London 2012, a giant, rusting steel 2010 Vater Staat (Father State) was placed prominently at the entrance to the show. Towering over visitors, but wearing the same implacable expression and floor length robe as the present work, it resounded with a similar understated authority.
The motif of the “Father State,” with its implications of a dictatorial head of a totalitarian regime, was one that Schütte revisited many times between 2007 and 2010, and it embodies many of the themes that have been integral to his highly original, and much admired, contribution to contemporary figurative sculpture. Continuing in the long European tradition of using art to portray power, Schütte’s series of works that explore the notion of the Father State explore the fallibility of the a patriarchal figurehead. Although the figure’s demeanor, position and title suggest that he is in possession of great power, he is made immobile by his rope binds, and isolated by his lofty position. His bare head and advanced age expose him further, and also help to reveal a sense of individuality and personality that is distinctly human. Detached from those beneath him by his artificial pedestal, Vater Staat (Father of State) draws attention to the isolation of those with responsibility. As the leader of many, he is simultaneously removed from the company of those around him, while being made vulnerable in the attention engendered by the very uniqueness of his position.
Schütte first began to make figures that were subtly satirical in 1992, prompted by a year spent as a resident of Rome. There, he had absorbed the proud, heroic statues of Roman antiquity, especially the portraits of emperors in the collection of the Capitoline Museum. Yet, at the same time, there was considerable political upheaval going on in the country, and many prominent members of civil society and politics, including heads of state, were being discredited and sent to jail. The contrast between the classical icons and the contemporary reality resonated with Schütte, giving rise to a series of sculptures that contain a provocative, though poetic, anti-heroism. Originally using modeling clay or fimo, Schütte began to sculpt intricate, emotive male heads before binding them tightly together in pair using cloth and rope, occasionally isolating them under bell jars. Known as United Enemies, these figurines, which are at once grotesque and humorous, have accompanied the artist for decades. As with the Vater Staat series, Schütte masterfully plays with monumentality and intimacy, rendering this ongoing series of sculptures in a variety of scales and different materials. As he has done with Vater Staat (Father of State), Schütte wrapped them in his own clothes to evoke puppetry, and deliberately left the figures hairless to enhance their universal appeal, and avoid any specific connotations of culture or a time period.
Figuration has continued to play an important part in Schütte’s artistic practice; he revels in creating character and individuality through nuances of posture, pose and facial gesture, and is particularly interested in how these unite with certain mediums and textures to evoke a particular, instinctive response from the viewer. In wishing to incite a very direct reaction born of the moment alone, Schütte’s figurative investigations allude to theatre and performance. Indeed, Schütte’s earliest exhibited work, made while still a student of Gerhard Richter at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie in the 1970s, took the form of architectural and decorative installations, which were designed to promote a way of looking that was immediate and detached, as one might in a theatre. As he has said, “The things you cannot talk about—these are essential. I believe that material, form and color have their own language that cannot be translated. Direct experience is much more touching than media, photographs and so on” (T. Schütte, quoted in Thomas Schütte, London 1998, p. 22). Bringing together an observant and anthropological eye with a masterful understanding of the power of material and scale, Schütte creates work that inspires a reassessment of not only traditional artistic genres, but many of the subtleties of the human condition.