THOMAS SCHÜTTE | Kleine Geister (Little Ghosts)
- Thomas Schütte
- Kleine Geister (Little Ghosts)
- PVC, in three parts
Faggionato Fine Arts, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2002
The appeal of the Kleine Geister lies in their ambiguous yet individual identity. Constructed by twisting wax cords together in the form of spirals and then immersing them in a special kind of liquid PVC, these 100 figurines were created over the course of four weeks. The material is a special kind of wax, often used in aircraft construction, that is durable yet has a higher degree of toughness and flexibility; this allowed Schütte to bend each figure into unique poses and positions. While this series of works resemble upright masculine figures, the artist has left out any pretence of realistic representation. Appropriately named, these ‘ghosts’ lack faces and garments, and are instead characterised by rudimentary physiognomies and lumpy limbs that skirt the realm of abstraction. Schütte’s choice of medium and his denial of formal concerns are highly unusual in the history of the human body in art, and it is precisely his spirit of experimentation, his collaging of abstraction and figuration in sculpture, that puts him at the forefront of contemporary sculpture making.
Auguste Rodin’s famed sculptural group The Burghers of Calais is often mentioned in conjunction with Schütte’s Kleine Geister. While Rodin’s reference to a particular historical moment and specific individuals does not align with Schütte’s ambiguous, faceless figures, the composition of The Burghers of Calais has largely inspired Schütte’s approach to creating individual units within a larger context and entity. In Rodin’s sculptural ensemble, each burgher, or citizen, is individualised with his own facial features, expression, gesture, garment as well as body language. While these elements were partly employed in order to replicate actual persons in reality and history, Rodin’s work is part of – as well as a successful example of – a larger dialogue of negotiation between form and space that has occupied and challenged sculptors throughout history. The success of The Burghers of Calais lies in the sculpture’s perfect balance between glorifying the six individual heroes yet presenting them as one group – a single unit that represents the French city of Calais as a whole. The dichotomy of the singularity versus the community is readily evident in Schütte’s Kleine Geister as well. Though meant as an ensemble, each figure has its own gestures and body language that demonstrate different emotions and personalities from its companions. Speaking of his little ghosts, Schütte recalls: “I gathered all the Geisters together three or four times and realised that they resembled a huge disco. As soon as I started to combine them they began to acquire quite striking expressions and poses. One is standing tall, the other is mocking, another shy… But as individual objects, they remain completely undefined” (Thomas Schütte, cited in: Ulrich Loock, op. cit., p. 147).
These small spirits are the little cousins of, and prequel to, Schütte’s Grosse Geister. From 1995 onwards Schütte started enlarging some of his Kleine Geister in aluminium or bronze. Schütte’s magnificent sculptures have been displayed in many public spaces in recent years, prominent examples of which include a group of Ganz Grosse Geister placed at the entrance of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicaco, four Grosse Geister in Geneva’s Parc des Bastions as well as another group along Lake Zurich in 2013.