Among the drawings and prints by Thomas Schütte in the Goetz Collection (Munich) is a work on paper, signed and dated October 29th, 1980. (Ill. 1) Centre of the horizontal format is a black cloud of sprayed paint. Almost in the middle of its upper third, it bears the following inscription: ETWAS FEHLT (Something is missing). It is spelled out in yellow capital sans-serif letters. In the lower margin, handwritten notes clarify that the drawing is the design for an outside neon-work to be executed in the dimensions of either 40 x 450 cm or 50 x 300 cm.
In layout and nature it corresponds with drawings from the 1960s and early 1970s by artists such as Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt and Bruce Nauman. With elementary means they fix a well thought-out idea up to the point where the execution might follow subsequently. Idea and execution are dealt with as two different phenomena, intellectual work and physical execution are considered as two interrelated kinds of artistic practice. This neutralises the simplistic logic that the one has to immediately succeed the other; the asymmetry of intellectual and manual work is declared obsolete. The cause, circumstances and time of realization are, and remain, a matter of negotiation.
Due to the inclination and engagement of Konrad Fischer, who after a career as an artist in 1967 started to work as art dealer, curator and co-producer of art-works, central ideas could be firstly seen realized in Europe as mostly site-specific works in the rooms Fischer then rented in Düsseldorf. They were located in Neubrückstraße, Andreasstraße, Platanenstraße and Mutter-Ey-Straße. Fischer invited American and British artists by sending them flight tickets who travelled to Düsseldorf for that very purpose. The invitation gave them a chance to realize and install a new work and meet friends and colleagues. In 1972 a mixture of overview and resume of these artistic approaches oscillating between what is called Minimal and Conceptual Art could be seen in the section “Idee und Idee/Licht” at documenta 5 in Kassel, curated by Konrad Fischer and Klaus Honnef.
It is this documenta that Schütte visited and confronted himself with thoroughly. It gave him an introduction to what then was understood as contemporary art on an international level.
His idea for the outside neon-work has not yet been realised. It is part of the distinctively so-called repertoire of artistic practices, works and ideas which he began to build up as seriously as playfully during his time at the Düsseldorf Art Academy between 1973 and 1981. In Düsseldorf and Paris Schütte envisioned and installed works, both in private or public spaces, professionalizing himself in the choice and placement of words and slogans as well as the presentation of own works. Around the time of and immediately after his graduation and supported by Kasper König’s 1980 initiative to propose Schütte for the Jürgen-Ponto-Award, the number of exhibitions with a wider range of publicity increased. Schütte used them as possibilities to both spread out his repertoire and self-consciously test by then established artistic formats going back to the 1960s.