Hamburg

Thomas Schütte

Hamburger Kunsthalle

This exhibition presented what are usually considered Thomas Schütte’s first figurative works: the kneaded busts and figures as well as Mann im Matsch (Man in mud, 1982). Additional pieces included his proposal Monument für einen verschollenen Seefahrer (Monument for a lost sailor, 1989); and his proposal for a fountain entitled Weinende Frau (Crying woman, 1989). Lager (Stock, 1978) and Hauptstadt II (Capital II, 1984) are both nonfigurative works; in the context of this show they functioned as commentaries on the underlying purpose of the institution. Lager was installed at the foot of the steps to the permanent collection, while Hauptstadt II was placed between the doors to the administrative offices. The large terra-cotta figures also commented on the whole process behind mounting an exhibition: placed in the entrance rotunda, they stood on simple wooden crates, ready for transport—several of them were still wrapped.

The remaining works were placed in smaller rooms connected by a long corridor, while the corridor itself was interrupted by a bronze figure and a wooden partition, rendering this space even more claustrophobic. The most arresting piece in the show was United Enemies, 1994, which recalled an earlier work entitled Old Friends, 1992, but in the more recent piece the figures were tied together in pairs. Schütte also photographed the heads, retouched the photographs with white highlights, and then made offset prints.

The theatrical display of these figures and heads, as well as the apparent decision to make the work look amateurish in order to preclude its estheticization, reflect Schütte’s commitment to emotional as well as critical engagement. In this way he addresses his relationship to German Expressionism. Indeed, Schütte seems to be presenting Expressionism as a viable artistic position. The figures in Die Fremden (The foreigners, 1992), with their downtrodden look and arms like handles, as well as the seductive coloration and intensity of United Enemies evoke the Expressionists’ response to suffering, one that often took refuge in cynicism and passivity. However, in Schütte’s work, expression arises from an active rather than a passive confrontation with both personal anxiety and societal ills.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated front the German by Charles V. Miller.