The Serpentine’s new survey show of the work of German artist Thomas Schütte
is subtitled ‘Faces and Figures’, but the torsos and limbs of the human body are rarely present in the exhibition. Instead it is faces that are the focal points, staring out at you constantly from the galleries, sometimes serene in their appearance, more often than not grotesque and monstrous.
Thomas Schütte, 'Memorial for unknown artist', 2011. Installation view, Thomas Schütte: Faces & Figures Serpentine Gallery, London. (25 September - 18 November 2012) © 2012 Gautier Deblonde.
In the opening room, a photorealist self-portrait of the young artist (1975) is contrasted with a head-and-shoulders bronze bust of an old man (Memorial for unknown artist, 2011) – the sculpture’s full beard and hands raised in resignation give him a look of a despairing god. In another space, rows of patinated bronze heads are mounted on the wall at a height, as if a jury about to pass judgement, surely symbolic of power. Their primordial faces are, by turns, gruesome, pitiful and noble, and at times an unsettling combination of the three.
Thomas Schütte, 'Vater Staat (Father State)', 2010. Installation view, Thomas Schütte: Faces & Figures Serpentine Gallery, London
(25 September - 18 November 2012) © 2012 Gautier Deblonde.
Thomas Schütte, 'Mirror Drawings', 1998. Watercolor, ink, pencil on paper. 38 x 28cm. © DACS 2012. The central gallery is dominated by a monumental rust-coloured steel figure, Father State (2010). Clothed in a flowing robe, his arms are decapitated like an antique Buddha or Greek idol. But this image of ancient history and patriarchy, which towers impressively above the visitor, has a face that is utterly inscrutable. Elsewhere Schütte explores his own identity in a series of 30 self-portraits on paper, ‘Mirror Drawings’ (1998–9) – in each piece, the artist’s depicts his reflection as seen in a circular shaving mirror, the variety of representations suggesting Schütte’s multiple selves.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine