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Thomas Schütte: Crystal

The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts
Through October 9, 2017

Interior view of Crystal, Thomas Schütte, 2015, at the Clark Art Institute. Photo: Grigori Fateyev

The name of this installation is an immediate explanation of its form and a clear reference to the crystalline nature of quartz found in abundance on the site. A shelterlike destination among the paths of the gently rolling Berkshire Hills, Crystal comes into view after crossing a cow pasture. Approaching from below, it appears like the gabled end of a chapel. This dramatic point of view is also the least provocative in its referencing of traditional architectural language. Although the asymmetry of the sculpture is somewhat unusual, the viewer feels within the realm of the familiar.

Circling around this interesting object seems to make it shift, like a graceful animal, from one gestural stance into another. It poses on the edge of the wood. It perches along a short stone wall. It mimics a massive boulder that has been pushed forward by geological forces.

Exterior view of Crystal, Thomas Schütte, 2015, at the Clark Art Institute. Photo: Grigori Fateyev

Architectural language is rooted in the geometry of perception/projection and has the power to define a place (and a role) for the observer. Where do any two facets intersect? Typically, that point would be about 10 to 20 feet away, and from that point of view, Crystal appears both in its truest form and also as painfully incomplete. Unlike the rocks scattered in the woods and fields around the sculpture, this object is a vessel, an empty shell. Inside, the structure is treated with pine planks, the facets of which form a dynamic frame for the surrounding landscape in one single aperture. Perception is torqued, shaped by the interior walls. This unpredictable volume inscribes the planes of reference from within itself into the surrounding landscape, transforming the perception of the observer and imbuing it with a sense of instability. Crystal’s subtle angst permeates our reality, throwing into question the stability of the natural and manmade structures that surround us.

In winter, the landscape envelops and complements Crystal, allowing its metallic gray skin to blend with the rocks below, the dark tree trunks behind, and the bare hills and muted sky beyond. On a cold December day, looking at the undulating horizon line from within Crystal, the paintings of Thomas Cole or Caspar Friedrich come to mind. Like the work of his predecessors, Thomas Schütte’s sculpture has the power to tweak one’s view of the landscape ever so slightly, making it both more dangerous and more sublime.

Images of Crystal, Thomas Schütte, 2015, at the Clark Art Institute. Images: Grigori Fateyev