Thomas Schütte’s practice is rooted in skepticism toward the traditional understanding of art and its intended function within the public realm. His decidedly antiheroic works mine his own earlier production as well as the art of previous eras in an effort to engage both social and art historical narratives of 20th-century Europe.
While Schütte has produced an oeuvre of great diversity, he is primarily known and celebrated for his sculptural work, much of which has addressed the almost existential difficulty that postwar German artists have experienced in attempting to create monuments and memorials. The towering sculpture Vater Staat, currently on view in Pritzker Garden, exemplifies Schütte’s concern for the challenges artists encounter in dealing with the heritage of public expressions of authority. Schütte chooses to subvert such modes.
In 1998, Schütte began a series of large-scale, contorted figures of women cast in bronze, steel, and aluminum titled Women (Frauen) (1998–2006). Referred to by the artist as “Stahlfrau” (Steel Woman) or “Bronzefrau” (Bronze Woman), the ambiguous figures play with the poses of the classical female nude—reclining, sitting, squatting, and kneeling. Schütte’s women deliberately employ conventions of an established genre as a means to both eulogize and undermine its recurrent pictorial vocabulary. The beautifully rendered head and face of Bronze Woman No. 17 is in marked contrast to the rest of her figure, which remains fluid and vague, ever shape-shifting. The artist’s presentation of this piece on a rusting metal workbench rather than on a conventional pedestal transforms an object of passive contemplation into a subject of active inquiry. Though references to Auguste Rodin, Aristide Maillol, Henry Moore, and Henri Matisse are perceptible, Schütte employed a traditional iconographic vocabulary only as a starting point and as a working material. Bronze Woman’s curious mix of naturalistic and abstracted features derives as much from earlier art as it does from the artist’s imagination.
Sponsors This exhibition is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago with major funding from the Bluhm Family Endowment Fund, which supports exhibitions of modern and contemporary sculpture.