Critics’ Picks

André Butzer, Untitled, 2011, oil on canvas, 59 x 83".

André Butzer, Untitled, 2011, oil on canvas, 59 x 83".


André Butzer

Rhona Hoffman Gallery
1711 West Chicago Avenue
January 27–March 17, 2012

In his first solo exhibition in Chicago, the prolific German painter André Butzer provides a concise and gripping recapitulation of his recent work with six canvases painted between 2008 and 2011, ranging from about three by five feet to five by eight feet, interspersed with six smaller works on paper. The show offers those new to Butzer a chance to experience the work for which he is best known: cartoonish knots and circuits of surface color, figural motifs that echo across multiple canvases––flesh-toned, carcasslike masses weigh heavily at the center of both La Chasse (Mis en bouteille au chateau) (The Hunt [Bottled at the Estate]), 2011, and Tote Kühe im Himmel (Néo-Cézannismus) (Dead Cows in the Sky [Neo-Cézannism]), 2011––and a keen, often mischievous play with art-historical precedents such as Matisse and Miró.

Even those well acquainted with the painter may be startled by one canvas in particular, Untitled, 2011: a mottled gray ground of roughly five by seven feet, with two hollow black rectangles not quite aligned at the upper right-hand corner. At first, it looks like an abandonment of the concerns laid out in the first rooms of the gallery. Instead of color, gray and black; instead of a spray of varied figuration, tight, repetitive abstraction; instead of Cézanne—Minimalism? But Untitled is far from a one-off; nor is it a departure. Rather, it is one of a series of over forty works that Butzer calls “N” paintings, ranging from under two feet to over twelve feet tall, all comprising the same paired rectangles. These paintings (of which Untitled is the sole example in the show) dangle a formalist bait and then, on closer inspection, contain ranges of color swallowed in the gray and catalogues of painterly touch beyond the surface abstraction. Compared with paintings like Planetarium Lucky Luke (Neo-Cézannismus), 2010, in which slick, glossy rails of bright yellow and pink paint slide the eye from one corner to the other, protruding as much as an inch off the canvas, the “N” series produces a more muted effect, with more restrained means. But Butzer’s mixture of playful mayhem and deep research into the expressive capacities of paint remains consistent; only the proportions have changed.