Profiling an enigmatic and often irreverent approach to both the human body and sculpture as a medium, Skarstedt has brought a series of works by Thomas Schütte to its Chelsea location. A continuation of his Frauen series, the show combines a thorough selection of etchings with a small series of sculptures, exploring his craft as both a skilled draughtsman and studied artist in both the exploration and critique of the practice of sculpture, joining together works from the past two decades to draw new historical comparisons and conceptual linkages in the artist’s practice.
Over the course of his career, Schütte’s work has long mined the physicality and scale of the human body, not to mention the sheer presence of the sculptural form, as a site to render strange and often disturbing interrogations of the body and its depiction in turn. Presented here, his work is placed in a more direct exchange with the pioneers of modernist sculpture and drawing, even tracing some influences back beyond the frame of modernism. Flashes of Maillol and Auguste Rodin are cited explicitly as influences for the artist, and their skilled abilities in capturing the human form appear throughout his etches, tracing the human body in graceful arcs and nuanced studies of the muscular structure of the body. Yet it’s the artist’s sculptures that push these historical touchstones to a new level of articulation. This sense of anatomy is twisted through the lens of Henry Moore’s formal innovations, and the language of sculptural modernism more broadly: arms and legs snake out from the body with a sense of ever-flowing vitality, while the torsos and heads of his figures swell with his emphasis on the material and emotional evocativeness.
Yet Schütte is as much a student of these artists as he is a critic, and his careful articulation of the history of his medium ultimately serve as a platform for his own investigations and deconstructions. His sculptures here are distended, flattened, or broken apart by what appears to be a sudden moment of force, ultimately bearing the physical traces of the artist’s hand writ large in the gallery. Originally executed as small-scale models, these pieces were worked on by a dominating artist’s hand, then translated into a monumental scale, a point that makes the work’s often surreal or strange relations of scale and space all the more notable. In one work, Stahlfrau Nr. 4, one imagines the artist quite literally squashing the sculpture down, leaving a flattened object that seems increasingly abstracted from its final form as a near monumental object.
Schütte’s operations in these sculptures, offered additional light by his studies of the human body, underscore an artist particularly comfortable in both when to meticulously sculpt the figure at hand, and when to turn the form itself into a plaything of his own. Taking on a variety of forms and modes here, the show offers a subtle but intriguing exploration of his varied interests and techniques.
The show closes December 17th.
— D. Creahan
Thomas Schütte at Skarstedt [Exhibtion Site]