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Thomas Schütte (b. 1954)
Thomas Schütte (b. 1954)
Thomas Schütte (b. 1954)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY OF AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTOR
Thomas Schütte (b. 1954)

United Enemy (Udo)

Details
Thomas Schütte (b. 1954)
United Enemy (Udo)
signed, dedicated, titled and dated 'UDO, 1993, Th Schutte" (under the wooden element)
fimo, fabric, wood, plastic string, pvc pipe and glass dome
figure: 14¾in. (37cm.)
overall height: 72 3/8in. (184cm.)
overall diameter: 9¾in. (25cm.)
Executed in 1993
Provenance
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 2000.
Special Notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘Here we find ourselves facing a creative adventure that acquires the sense of an in-depth investigation into human feelings and into man’s relationship with himself, with authority and power, and with history. If this is a tragic age, Thomas Schütte is surely its poet’ —A. BELLINI


United Enemy (Udo) is a work from Thomas Schütte’s most important series of sculptures. Made the subject of several key photographic portfolios in the mid-1990s and revisited in monumental bronze form in 2011, the United Enemies’ first iteration was in 1992 – the year the present work was made. While Schütte was on a six-month residency in Rome, dozens of Italian politicians were arrested, unmasking a deeply corrupt system through which the ruling classes had held onto power and influence for over forty years. In response, Schütte conceived the puppet-like sculptures with heads of Fimo modelling clay and bodies of sticks and fabric which were to become the defining figures of his practice. Each under 40cm high, the miniature men are displayed under bell-jars and raised on tall plinths, giving them the aura of scientific specimens; indeed, Schütte aims for a sort of typology of the absolute, playing the intimate, personal scale of the models off against their near-mythic quality as eternal archetypes. They can no longer hide behind sharp suits and false smiles. Udo has a white-marbled head of brownish purple with piercing blue beads for eyes, and a body swaddled in pale green robes and yellow shirt, tied at the waist with green ribbon. His arms are missing – or perhaps straitjacketed – and his legs a trussed-up tripod of wooden sticks, giving him a material vulnerability at odds with his deep-set authoritarian frown. Schütte’s work is born of the contradiction of sculptural monumentalism in a time of fallen idols: the United Enemies are not for worship, but are placed on pedestals to be made precarious. They stand as if on trial, pilloried and defensive, taking part in a Beckett-like theatre of the absurd that posits ideology as oppression and all power as questionable. United Enemy (Udo) captures the essence of Schütte’s work, as arresting in its execution as in its groundbreaking revision of figurative sculpture for the modern age.

Schütte brings contemporary alertness into conversation with timeless concerns. The immediate circumstance of Italy’s nationwide mani pulite (‘clean hands’) operation – which saw the total downfall of many political parties and town councils – was a springboard for his own investigation into the enduring vice and corruption that have plagued the leaders of mankind throughout history. The heads of the United Enemies are reminiscent of the grotesque ‘character head’ busts created in the late eighteenth century by German-Austrian baroque sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, who aimed to define 64 ‘canonical grimaces;’ Schütte likewise caricatures not individuals but anonymous physiognomic ‘types’ that speak across the ages. ‘I was there in 1992,’ recalls Schütte, ‘the year there was this peaceful revolution in Italy where the heads of State and a lot of prominent people were being exposed and discredited and sent to jail. So the caricature and the satire was a reality ... The first big set of [United Enemies] was made in Rome. They are just sticks with a head on top and another stick that builds the shoulders. I used my own clothes to wrap them in and form the body. For me they were puppets and not related to classical art ... I disciplined myself to modelling each head for one hour only. They have no hair, so the face is more concentrated, more general, because hair always suggests a particular period. Many Roman heads have this fantastic curly hair, but that would have limited me too much’ (T. Schütte in conversation with J. Lingwood, in J. Heynen et. al., Thomas Schütte, London 1998, p. 29). This ‘concentrated’ quality to the face of Udo gives him a palpable psychological force while eluding any individual referent; the head radiates voodoo-doll intensity from its scaffold of sticks and fabric, dark and defined as if stripped back to a talismanic essence of man.

‘I like the small scale of the model,’ Schütte has said, ‘because you have the whole world inside a room or on a table top’ (T. Schütte in conversation with J. Lingwood, in J. Heynen et. al., Thomas Schütte, London 1998, p. 25). For all that United Enemy (Udo) seems like a makeshift plaything, his puppet-like quality taps into an ancient tradition of storytelling. From religious dramas in ancient Egypt to versions of the Iliad performed in Greece, medieval morality plays to the slapstick of Punch and Judy, puppetry has for millennia been a mode of ritual, ceremony, entertainment and parody. The affairs of gods and men are played out in microcosm, on small stages with fetishistic figures – Schütte’s ‘whole world inside a room or on a table top.’ Puppets, of course, usually have strings, while the United Enemies are freestanding. With their moulded heads and crudely assembled bodies, however, they bear the visible traces of their making: even if they represent powerful men, they are also shown to be shaped by a force greater than themselves. Herein lies the mordant wit of Schütte’s sculpture, which presents history itself as the sculptor. With his scientist’s bell-jar, the artist merely exhibits his findings. There is much to be learned in the faces of mankind in all their tragedy, comedy, horror and hilarity, and Schütte is here to teach us a lesson.

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