Presented at the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco (NMNM), in the galleries at Villa Paloma, an extraordinary one-man-show dedicated to Thomas Schütte spans a period of time that encompasses thirty years of the German artist's research and production on the architectural model. The series of works on display include a selection of his celebrated models that he began in 1980, using various materials and techniques, alongside a complete portfolio of 27 prints with building as their central subject. In their choice of title — Houses — curators Andrea Bellini and Dieter Schwarz highlight Schütte's way of placing his architecture in direct relationship with the notion of living.
Schütte's work on architecture appears to correspond to a personal reflection around the figure of man and consequently of contemporary society. Through an open-ended inventory of strongly evocative typologies, presented as an allegory of his vision of the world, the artist has put together a critical and emotionally-engaging account of his own times. Schütte's interest in the architectural object isn't a mere speculative exercise on possible combinations of volumes or on the given form; instead, it is motivated by the desire for each constructed cell to be taken as a device for representation: the built entities in reduced scale are maquettes with a high symbolic value. The making of these pieces transfers the private thoughts of the artist onto a public plane, into a dimension that is also political, coming together in an intense and disenchanted comment on the contemporary condition.
Thomas Schütte's interest in architecture is motivated by the way he sees in this disciplinary sphere a capacity for representation, which is useful for expressing and signifying the world. At a younger age, Schütte found stimulus and inspiration in the culture of building and the theoretical debate associated with the work of some prominent architects. The work of Aldo Rossi became of particular interest to him when in 1980 he had the opportunity to encounter the Teatro del Mondo, anchored at Venice's Punta della Dogana. The fascination with this potentially nomadic full-scale model set in the atmospheric context of this city was combined with Schütte's attention to Rossi's theoretical research, that identified, in the archetype, the key element of his expressive vocabulary, achieved by the synthesis — but also by the accumulation — of distinct stylistic elements belonging to different eras. Rossi's lesson (in turn influenced by metaphysical painting, Palladian classicism, the visionary nature of the French architects "of the revolution" and the rational stamp of Adolf Loos) provided Schütte with an important reference.
Rossi's archetypes, that combine in a single linear "manner" and with a perfectly symmetrical layout the pure volumes of the cube, the sphere and the cylinder, find numerous assonances in Schütte's sculptural exploration, which absorbs and metabolises them into a rigorously autonomous formal language.
At a stylistic level, the German artist's capacity for synthesis is extraordinary because it is able to define an original and coherent identifying style, without renouncing a capacity for relating to — and sophisticatedly referencing — a number of architectural works recognised as exemplary twentieth century models. In the one-man-show at Villa Paloma, the model of Tempel I and the etching representing the Model K bunker regard a modus aedificandi that has a strong relationship with the solid plasticity of German expressionism; the Tempel I in particular seems to find affinity more in its "solemn" layout than in the development of its formal attributes with Rudolf Steiner's second Gotheanum. While the two Ackermans Temple models (one in wood, the other in Lego) can certainly be related to Aldo Rossi's style, in the two models Ferienhaus für Terroristen more than a post-modern matrix, it could be correlated with some of the architecture from "heroic" Californian modernism.
This reference, that is typological as well as stylistic, remains valid for the One Man Houses (three models on display from the series of five in wood from 2004) in which the simple and rigorous exposed structural frames and the general linearity of the design can be compared with some works by Pierre Koenig and (outside of the Case Study Houses programme) by Albert Frey. The geometries of these Houses however have other models; a number of projects by the Five Architects, in particular by Richard Meier, inspired by the rationalism of Le Corbusier and his concept of construction as a "machine for living". Meanwhile in more recent times, references seem to be directed at the dry and minimal compositions of John Pawson or those of Glenn Murcutt.
Beyond the game of combinations and comparisons, this thinking about the process of attribution of the form in Schütte's architectural models — whether they be bunkers, temples, museums, towers or residences — opens up to other considerations: and what if this attitude to creating the "new" associating inspirations that originate from different, even contradictory examples, had the aim of neutralising the stylistic component, eliminating it, in the almost impossible attempt to free oneself from the domain of the "figure"? And what if the inclination, of a post-modern stamp, to combine the example of the past with the current one were an attempt by the artist to set himself outside of history, in a highly personal temporal dimension, immanent or permanent? The One Man Houses — more than any other of Schütte's models — aspire to project themselves in this dimension. Each of them is the result of a calibrated assembly of simple, pure, clearly defined volumes. The living units, clearly resolved via a contemporary design, retain a tension of classical inspiration and have formal qualities that are similar to the standard ones of the centrally-planned temple (or the votive chapel, when on a small scale): it is easy to imagine these constructions as silent interiors, as spaces dedicated to meditation and contemplation, as places that can be assimilated with those of worship. As for religious constructions, also in this case the architecture expresses itself in a symbolic manner: as connection for man between distinct states, as a medium between terrain and ultra-terrain, as space for mystical practice and reflection on the mystery of living.
In this sense the One Man Houses are islands, territories of an independent "elsewhere". If for Aldo Rossi design for living regards places included "within the city walls" and is confronted with history (as he writes in The Architecture of the City), for Schütte the architectural model is also the place of unconditioned abstraction. The exhibition is a sequence of architectural subjects with the value of finite "object" in themselves and a long way from being able to be related to a context, surroundings, a landscape that includes other constructions: this character of "singularity", determined by sampling the environment the artist works on, reinforces the expression of the concept of "archetype" and adds power to the charged meaning that emanates from each piece. The "splendid isolation" of the models in relation to space is also emphasised by the design of the bases, always designed as an integral part of the work and characterised by typological variability (finish, detail and geometry) that constructs a reasoned inventory.
As such the exhibition presents the rough work table, marked and lined with pen, on which is placed one of the two models of the Ferienhaus für Terroristen; the crates in technical panels with wooden base for transport on which the One Man Houses are placed; and the regular prisms made from the basic combination of unfinished MDF modules. The sacredness and tautness of meaning that characterises all of Thomas Schütte's models comes across as authentic and defined, to the point that the transfer to real scale propagates their extraordinarily expressive charge, and constitutes an important possibility for the verification of their spatial qualities. The making of One Man House II in France (in 2009) and the recent construction of the Ferienhaus in Austria, take this exploration to another level, opening up the possibility of identifying new values for living space, inspired and stimulated by the visionary nature of an artist who has always conducted an important exploration into the relationship of man with himself and with the environment of his own existence. Marco Rainò
Through 11 November 2012
Thomas Schutte: Houses
Nouveau Musée National de Monaco
56 boulevard du Jardin Exotique, Monaco