- Thomas Schütte
- Kleiner Geist
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1997
Thomas Schütte in conversation with James Lingwood in: Thomas Schütte, Munich, 2001, p. 84.
Created in 1997, Kleiner Geist forms part of one of Thomas Schütte’s most acclaimed series of sculptures, the Geister (“ghosts” or “spirits”), which defined the artist’s innovative aesthetic and conceptual repertoire during that decade. As one of Germany’s most radical artists, Schütte’s heterogeneous output spans from painting to drawing to sculpture and architectural interventions – inherent to each of these diverse approaches is the artist’s commitment to engage in the complex relation between material, space, and viewer. In particular, the series of Geister is an artistic vision of human form in which each figure delicately oscillates between masquerade and revelation, composition and deformation, thereby scrutinising the dichotomous perceptions of reality and phantasmagorical appearances.
The notion of theatricality and staging is a continuous concern in Schütte’s work and is impressively demonstrated in Kleiner Geist: striking a dramatic, opera-like pose with arms eccentrically pressed against the chest and one leg in front of the other to emphasise the forward motion of the body, Kleiner Geist is reminiscent of an emotional embrace in an attempt to actively engage with the viewer. At the same time, the figure’s facial mimic with empty eyes, uplifted nose and distorted mouth seems to contradict its body language. This co-existence of the mythological-comical and the distorted-sceptical creates a mesmerising, otherworldly being. Schütte's sculpture thus challenges the viewer to reconsider and evaluate their own surroundings, their perception of space and scale in relation to the inherent movement of the sculpture, and, most notably, their own self-image.
The first series of Kleine Geister emerged from an extensive artistic dialogue with Richard Deacon that culminated in the collaborative exhibition Them and Us in 1995 at Lisson Gallery in London. A year later, Schütte cast a series of Große Geister that were an enlarged continuation of the smaller versions. Conceived alongside these monumentally, larger-than-life size figures, the present work forms part of the series of smaller-scale aluminium figures cast from wax molds. Through their rudimentary physiognomy and cloggy body limbs, these figures deliberately reveal the artist’s hand in the casting process. Moreover, by only suggesting certain bodily features and facial expressions, Schütte ultimately denies any categorisations of the figures. As the artist himself asserted: “I try to prevent my work from being given a definitive interpretation” (Thomas Schütte quoted in: Exh. Cat., Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (and travelling), Thomas Schütte: Hindsight, 2010, p. 142).
Schütte’s sculptural investment in the human figure and its variegated expressions can be traced back to his early practice. The strangely appealing aura of his Steel Women starting in 1999, the misshapen humanoids in Untitled Enemies originating from the early 1990s, the delicate and abstract casts of his Ceramic Sketches from 1997-1999, or his famous series of sculpted heads that he began in 1983 are testament to the artist’s vigorous approach to capture human complexity in his sculptures. Preceding the series of Geister, Schütte initiated a haunting installation at Documenta IX in 1992 entitled Die Fremden (The Strangers), which manifested his position as an incredibly powerful yet challenging artist.
Early on in his career, Schütte was adamant to resist any sort of convention. Studying under Gerhard Richter at the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf, Schütte soon recognised the impossibility for him to paint in a conventional way. Instead, he embarked on a path that was defined by intellectual cogency paired with the incorporation of the most unusual materials and practices to create works redolent of classical features blended with futuristic visions. The present work is testament to the cacophony of Schütte’s material influences, from the use of a specific wax to form the sculpture to the aluminium in which it is eventually casted. More than any other sculptor, Schütte’s deliberate embracement of the element of chance in his artistic approach culminates in works such as Kleiner Geist that accentuate the ephemeral nature of existence by confronting us with an impression of the human form that is at once foreign yet utterly relatable.