Gazing down from a towering height, the molten silhouette of Großer Geist Nr. 13 leans ever so slightly forward, its left arm raised in salute as though acknowledging the viewer’s watchful presence. Its surface gleams, reflecting the transient changes of light in its surroundings and reflecting the viewer’s own, undulating image in its mirror-like shine. Without identifying facial features, Großer Geist Nr. 13 is rendered intriguingly anonymous, exuding an air of mysterious ambiguity that invites imagined narratives. Describing the haunting and elusive presence of the Große Geister, German collector Friedrich Christian Flick writes: “The figures and their faces acquire contours, without it being possible to say what they actually are: good or evil spirits, wondering or knowing.” (Ulrich Loock, Thomas Schütte, Berlin, 2004, p. 7)
The apparent fluidity of the metallic form serves as testament to Schütte’s extraordinary technical virtuosity; within the exacting formal vernacular of his aluminum medium, he forges a seemingly elastic creature who appears both mobile and capable of interaction. Großer Geist Nr. 13’s limbs consist of luscious, smooth rolls that invoke the desire to touch. To create his extraordinary figures, the artist first immerses skeins of twisted wax cords—typically used in aircraft construction—in liquid wax, stabilizing and unifying the sculpture’s essential structure; only then does he cast the resulting spiral forms in the gleaming aluminum of the outer coating. Schütte’s innovative approach to creating the Geister falls in line with his mode of production overall: “Schütte’s usual approach is to...pursue often unusual, unexpected, and unaccustomed strategies.” (Ulrich Loock, Thomas Schütte, Berlin, 2004, p. 9) Within the present work, Schütte luxuriates in the material capacities of aluminum: both its malleability, which allows for the igneous elegance of his figures, and its strength, which allows him to work on a colossal scale.
Despite its contemporary means of production, Großer Geist Nr. 13 contains a deep awareness of the history of sculpture. Only four years before initiating the Große Geister series, Schütte travelled to Rome to study classical sculpture; the present work’s contrapposto-like stance reveals his particular enchantment with ancient masterpieces. Schütte’s deft fusion of figuration and abstraction links the present work with Modernist efforts to embody motion through abstracted form; Umberto Boccioni’s 1913 sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space likewise presents a humanoid creature lunging forward, exuding a similar sense of dynamic movement. Simultaneously, Großer Geist Nr. 13’s massive scale contains the presence of such Minimalist objects as Robert Morris's large-scale L-Beams, which likewise engage viewers upon a phenomenological plane. In Großer Geist Nr. 13, Schütte revels in the evolution of his artistic medium, translating its history into an ingenious form of its time.
At once otherworldly and intensely tangible, Großer Geist Nr. 13 defies simple understanding, demonstrating the mystique of the artist’s oeuvre. Indeed, Schütte famously refuses to denote specific meaning to his sculptures—as he states, to “cast them into words or philosophy.” (the artist in Julian Heynen, James Lingwood and Angela Vettese, eds., Thomas Schütte, London 1998, p. 25) Instead, Schütte invites his viewers to ponder Großer Geist Nr. 13 for themselves, encouraging a profound reflection on their place within the surrounding environment, and the inherent limits of human experience.
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