Thomas Schütte was born in 1954, in Oldenburg. From 1973 to 1981, he studied at the Art Academy Düsseldorf with sculptor Fritz Schwegler and painter Gerhard Richter.
Schütte’s work is characterized by the large variety of genres he has drawn on. He repositioned their traditions and conceptually reflected their medial effects on the art world. His artistic beginnings lie in the stage set and in model construction where he devoted himself to techniques of spatial illusion and derived his own formal vocabulary. The conceptual drafts of Daniel Buren proved to be especially influential. Models for the staging of exhibitions (Die große Mauer (The Big Wall) 1977;Westkunst Modelle (West Art Models) 1981) or small-format model houses reveal his interest in an extension of the museal art space and its fictional transfer to real and trivial everyday spaces. In contrast to Buren, Schütte has also been interested in the crafts aspects of decorative techniques, of techniques that produce different spatial and material effects. Eventually, model construction became a starting point for a personal and artistic process of self-finding (Mein Grab / My Grave, 1981). Integrating small dolls into his work enabled him to experimentally explore living spaces and social networks (Modell für ein Museum / Model of Museum, 1982;Studio I/II 1983; Haus für zwei Freunde / House for Two Friends, 1983). Schütte kept creating model houses in the following years (Ferienhaus für Terroristen I II und III / Vacation Home for Terrorists I, II, and III, 2002; Tanke Deutschland / Gas Station Germany, 2002).
At first sight, the wooden, small-format mutes in his stage-like drafts seem to only structure spatial relations. Yet single groups of figures soon take on a life of their own (Waiting for a Wonder, 1983; Walze (Roll), 1985; Piazza Uno, Piazza Duo 1986). Not before Mohr’s Life from 1988, however, did Schütte search more intensely for suggestive methods that would awaken his sculptures to life. The small-format doll showing a »Moor« is staged in a narrative spatial installation, together with canvas pictures. With modeling mass and fabric, he created a multicolored small sculpture with a distinct physiognomy. Schütte then started to concentrate on picture installations with increasingly political motifs (Dreiakter / Play in Three Acts, 1982; Wo ist Hitlers Grab? / Where is Hitler’s Grave?, 1991), before he again turned to questions of figural art.
Mostly made from modeling mass, wood, and plaster, Schütte now did small-format sculptures whose faces refigure 19th century traditions. They especially draw on the caricature-like busts of Honoré Daumier, but also on the head vases of Paul Gauguin (Mann und Frau (Man and Woman), 1986; Vorher Nachher (Before After), 1993). Moreover, through medial transformations of the busts in close-up shots, he also achieved monumental and classical-sculptural effects of his seemingly bizarre, trivial little dolls (United Enemies, 1993; Innocenti, 1994). His interest in the large format was inspired especially by his political contribution to the Documenta 9, in 1992. Schütte created a life-size, figurative, exterior piece entitled Die Fremden (The Strangers) which he installed on the Altan of the former Rote Palais in Kassel. The schematized, vase-like bodies consist of glazed ceramics. Schütte thus staged the body of the others, of the strangers, as well-shaped and at the same time object-like constructions.
With his Große Geister (Big Spirits), done between 1996 and 1998, Schütte turned to a hulky format. Yet individual forms and workmanship in the use of the material still provide a starting point: From twisted wax rods, Schütte created torsos and limbs which he then enlarged into comical, grotesque, giant figures that he had cast in aluminium, steel, and bronze. Out of the strange deformation of the material, human-like beings emerge with surprisingly familiar body shapes that still reveal the massive excess of the material they were made of. If these heroic, hybrid beings connote maleness, Schütte then also turned towards the creation of female counterparts. Yet now the classical, recumbent, sculptural nude became a model for his work. Schütte cites its idealist and politically instrumentalized remodeling in modern sculpture, takes it up, and repeats the developmental process of the whole genre. Starting with ceramic sketches (1997 — 99), especially his monumentalStahl- and Bronzefrauen (Steel and Bronze Women) have defined his work from 1999 until the present. Moreover, the creation of monumental heads has emerged as a further focus of his sculptural works. They keep circling around the phenomenological re-cognizing, the interpretation, and the variance of human expressiveness (Blauer Kopf, Roter Kopf, Gelber Kopf, Türkiser Kopf (Blue Head, Red Head, Yellow Head, Turquoise Head), 2002). Aside from this focus on sculpture and model construction, Schütte also created a comprehensive œuvre of graphic arts.
From 1998 to 2000, the Dia Center of the Arts, New York, dedicated a comprehensive, three-part exhibition cycle to Schütte’s work. Schütte’s sculptures were also shown in a traveling exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur and at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (K21), Düsseldorf, in 2003/04
Thomas Schütte lives and works in Düsseldorf.
Thomas Schütte, Zeichnungen: Ausst.-Kat. Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden u.a., hg. von M. Winzen, Köln 2006
Loock, Ulrich: Thomas Schütte, Köln 2004
Thomas Schütte, Kreuzzug 2003, 2004: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstmuseum Winterthur u.a., Winterthur 2003
Heynen, J.; Lingwood, J.; Vettese, A.: Thomas Schütte, London1998
Thomas Schütte, Scenewright, Gloria in Memoria, in Medias Res: Ausst.-Kat. Dia Art Foundation, hg. v. L. Cooke und K. Kelly, Düsseldorf 2002
Thomas Schütte: Ausst.-Kat. Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, 1988