To us, all Schütte's sculptures are special, but in the work of this artist, the human figure truly arrives at one of its greatest contemporary interpretations.
He concentrates primarily on the head: the centre of the human being, linked to the space within, the heart, the viscera. The United Enemies, bound one to the other, are a sublime example of his ability to imprint, with the modelling material, a mixture of underlying expressions and feelings, that go beyond our imagination itself. Figures that are visionary and incredibly realistic at the same time, in which the heads are given primacy of place. Expressions of anguish, despair, suffering, anger, rebellion, desires that are repressed but not annulled, vital breath never soothed; everything is there: except internal peace. The state of "normality" does not exist in this sculpture, with the sunken eyes of the two characters that stare into emptiness, but who at the same time seem to be sneering, thinking of something atrocious, which will not come about because of the imprisonment imposed and placed behind glass. A glass reliquary case recalling those of the Saints in some old Italian churches, that I used to examine close-up as a child, out of curiosity, even though they were frightening.
Schütte tells us everything about his characters with the head, nothing else is necessary: it is a sort of x-ray, a map of the opposing sentiments and contradictory emotions that can pass through the human soul.
Because the artist cannot escape "his" need to carry out a deep, almost desperate investigation of the human being. Which is transformed into a beautiful sculpture, which you will never be able to forget, because it scares you, attracts you, "penetrates" you.
You recognise its incredible expressive power and you feel the extraordinary energy that animates it.
Standing just over one foot high, the sizable impact of Thomas Schütte’s United Enemies resounds with the same formidable reach of human emotions and sensations as the distorted faces of 18th century German sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt’s Character Busts or Leonardo da Vinci’s Grotesque Heads. Haunted by a humanizing fleshiness and uncanny realism the gruesomely warped goblin-like visages sustain an unerring claim on humanity captured in the pair’s sinister ability to project the fragility of corporeal existence. Through Schütte’s meticulous detail, these macabre, puppet-like monsters—with their pallid, hairless, and
distorted features - are determined to disturb the viewer’s understanding of human psychology.
Manipulating and exploiting scale and materials with immense effect throughout his career, the human figure has been resolutely disfigured throughout Schütte’s oeuvre, from such notable examples as Mohr’s Life, 1988 (Flick Collection, Zürich), and Die Fremden (The Strangers), 1992 (Tate, London) to his later series of Große Geister, 1996. Comprised of a pair of small male forms perpetually bound together and sealed beneath a glass bell jar mounted atop a cylindrical pillar, the imprisoned figures in United Enemies are among the most evocative representations within the artist’s oeuvre. Having been awarded a grant to both live and work in Rome, Schütte was influenced by the sizable collection of classical portrait busts in the Capitoline Museum, where the sculptures of Roman Senators and heads of state struck a chord with the contemporaneous Italian political scene, a generational shift known as the “Clean Hands” investigation which exposed entrenched systems of bribery and corruption throughout Italian politics.
“I was [in Rome] in 1992,” the artist explained, “the year there was a 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…I used by 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, because hair always suggests a particular period. Many Roman heads have this fantastic curly hair, but that would have limited me too much” (T. Schütte in interview with J. Lingwood, “David Lingwood in conversation with "Thomas Schütte,” Thomas Schütte, London, 1998, p. 29).
Constituting an overt critique of the patriarchs of political life, through his prevalent use of façade Schütte’s eternally ensnarled bodiless heads with their puppet-like presentation, evoke the masks and unfavorable alliances forcibly procured by political circumstance or personal greed. Yet, within their supposed vulgarity is a certain jarring humor found within the drama of modern politics and power that transcends the figures poisoned faces, strange dressing gowns, and illfated circumstances. As the monstrous creatures mutate into contemporary puppets, entombed within a glass prison, we realize that the scene before us is merely a theatrical staging, a scaled down vision of the inherent comedy of the cantankerous and disgruntled.