The choice to show a complete set of recent engravings by Thomas Schütte was conceived as an echo of the Bruno Perramant exhibition. The Alte Freunde ("Old Friends") series is based on the famous eponymous series (see illustration below) consisting of small sculptures in Fimo polymer clay that Schütte made in the early 90's. Mounted on small wooden stilts, dressed in a tunic and positioned on a tall pedestal, each sculpture has a very expressive coloured face with pronounced facial expressions (anger, anxiety, surprise, fear, complacency, etc.). Schütte acknowledged having found that the busts of Roman emperors kept in the Musei Capitolini exerted a powerful appeal for him, while in residence in Rome.
In 1993, Schütte realized other sculptures, often presented in pairs, under the evocative title United Enemies, which are a perfect example of the schizophrenic ambiguity found in his work on a recurring basis.
The series of prints exhibited at the gallery shows 16 portraits of middle-aged men, minus hair, engraved full-page (four of them) or grouped in pairs, like a couple.
Seen three-quarters or full face, on a red or brown background, the faces are very expressive and more of them have anxious than serene expressions. Schütte was immersed in the exploration of physionomy and human emotion, amplifying expressions and outward appearance. In this regard, it is often mentioned, rightly, in parallel with some artists who took an interest in the past in facial exaggerations or caricatures, like Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783) and Honoré Daumier (1808-1879). One might also think of some ancient sculptures like certain satyres or puppets such as, for example, Paul Klee made for his son.
The frontality of the figures adds scale to the characters' psychology. One cannot avoid looking at this work, there is no anecdotal evidence in the background or the outfits, no chance to look elsewhere than at the facial features, as with passport photos.
Another reading will lead to a link with the political situation of Germany in the early 1990s. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the rapprochement of the two Germanys occurred amid a degree of euphoria before changes went ahead at such a slow pace that they caused discontent among part of the population. One could therefore see in these old friends depicted together the symbol of a people separated then reunited; a people with hopes as well as fears, trying to live together after many years of estrangement.
The Alte Freunde series highlights the human condition, the helplessness of the individual against the vastness and complexity of the world, whether external or internal. Some of these faces seem very excited, extremely fragile, on the verge of breaking to the point that they give the impression of being strangers to themselves.