New York

Thomas Schütte

Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

With the two sculptural projects and accompanying drawings presented here, West German artist Thomas Schütte encapsulates one of the historical dilemmas facing modern Europe: the various countries’ ongoing post-war reconstruction. With Big Buildings, 1989, Schütte presents a construction site of generic, characterless architecture in plywood and cardboard. Horizontal slabs stacked upon one another and separated by vertical posts resemble sandwiches whose meat will be its future residents. He displays these buildings as a collapsed, colorless morass of disparate, unfinished fragments. The pun on rationalist and purist architecture is enhanced by the inclusion of a small plastic soldier with one arm raised (a reference to Le Corbusier’s “Modular Man”); its placement inside one of the towers only highlights the structure’s impersonal quality.

The problem of losing the individual character of regions, provinces, and districts is the central issue in Schütte’s other sculpture, Chinatown, 1989. Each facade is punctuated by windows, which give the work a facial reference: two eyes and two nostrils. Its entrance is an open mouth, its door a tongue. However, Schütte presents us with a paradox. Although the sculpture’s character is human, it refers to the characterlessness of cheap mass-production. Public architecture can never recreate the actual flavor with which individuals imbue their neighborhood after a long period of residence. Ethnicity cannot be reproduced wholesale in a digestible format. Schütte highlights the ways in which Europe’s long history of tradition and cultural diversity has all but disappeared in the rubble of razed buildings. The replacement of Europe’s rich architectural heritage and organic town growth with buildings plotted in unimaginative grids is symptomatic of the dissipation of local craft, dialect, and fashion induced by mass media. Schütte’s installation expresses the notion that ethnicity and individuality cannot be systematized by architecture. Accordingly, he adopts a Pop mode to express the empty constitution that mass production imposes upon society. Instead of being culled from its society, character in post-war Europe has been redrawn in the boardrooms of industry. However, only individuals can make culture, culture cannot recreate individuality.

Kirby Gookin