Thomas Schütte

Thomas Schütte’s work shown here is clearly involved with deliberate deformations that instinctively make reference to Giorgio de Chirico, as evidenced in his titles: Piazza Uno (Plaza one), Piazza Due (Plaza two), and Tre (Three), all 1986. The shape of the building in Piazza Uno reminds me likewise of state architecture between the two wars—of Albert Speer’s, for example, but also of a more anonymous one. Piazza Due, which was shown in the same space as Uno and formed with it a single ambience, cannot help but bring to mind those watchtowers placed along the boundary that divides the two Germanies, and more reluctantly those concentration camps that automatically, if atrociously, connote the German landscape in Western collective imagination. Nor is the crowd carved out of wood by the artist’s brother far removed from these first impressions; these populated the room in groups of squads, here and there more sparsely. And given the size of the buildings, a reduction in scale to that of a nursery, we became bulky and foolish giants, plunged by our Gulliverian peregrinations into a Lilliput arranged by Schütte with the angelic lightness that characterizes all of his work. Tre, placed in the gallery office, is made up of three wood figures that face each other, their feet in the pebbles of an ashtray bowl, with red varnish dripped onto the head of each one.

Schütte’s architectural models don’t have the celebratory and commanding tone of state architecture but are its warped reflection, in a lyrical and not a negative sense—and not only that kind of architecture but architecture in general, buildings in their urban—Western and particularly European—specifications. Schütte has traversed the European city, has listened to its voices, and has ingenuously reproduced it, giving voice to his own innocent and personal expression. He uses a “found” lexicon and has composed a figure (rather than a discourse), leaving out historical and traditional motivations, avoiding both the blame and the guilt. The watchtowers of Piazza Due, in a soft green, stand out against a bright red wall: one can ascribe a banal symbolism to these signs, but it would only be a rough interpretation. The work is much stronger and more intense, and at the same time lighter and livelier.

The work embodies a singularity that liberates it from the continuum of history and tradition, including the history and tradition of art. In Schütte’s space one absorbs that “hot, ephemeral elan of the heart” of which we are the irrevocable present. Its hymn, which lasts but an instant, is not a “dis-course,” putting words in a sequential order, that “arrow shot of irreversible consumption.” Schütte’s work, then, is angelic, according to Massimo Cacciari’s seductive “angelology”: it is infans (doesn’t speak) and schulalos (innocent); it appears “happy” in its passive receptivity, notwithstanding the territories traversed, and the terrible things that are reflected in it; it is “simple,” deprived of the superstructure of discourse, of the intrigues of the mind; it is “young’ because the years of the century are not engraved on it; ”but it is not because of this that its song is less clear, its obsession less intense."

This show, then, is a kindergarten devoid of Swiftian malice, with all the fragility of infancy “transfigured in the force of resisting the dis-course of time.” And that space, in its voids and fissures, in its impossible recomposition, attests to and certifies it. “If you want to see it,” Schütte told me when we visited the show together, “don’t remain standing up, but get down on the floor”: abandon, if only for the occasion, the erect position, our unstable height.

Pier Luigi Tazzi

Translated from the Italian by Hanna Hannah.