Werner Buttner

Galerie Max Hetzler

Things are more peaceful with Werner Büttner of Hamburg, who, being born in 1954, is five years younger than Barfuss. His paintings on the theme of “Sozialstaatsimpressionen” (Impressions of the social state) may not be intended as the well-meaning niceties of the bourgeois quest for beauty, but they don’t really cause pain. For this exhibition Büttner published a catalogue about “The Problems of Miniature Golf in European Painting,” posing that recreation as a petit bourgeois pleasure pendant to the high pathos of the social state. He is also the author of a current book, Schrecken der Demokratie (Horrors of democracy); anyone wanting a real shock can find it there. But regardless of miniature golf, democracy, the state, or anything else, Büttner’s paintings are basically well and good.

The works draw on trivial motifs—not miniature golf, but such things as supplicating hands, a flying ray fish, three figures carrying something resembling the roof of a hut or a cultic pyramidal structure, a gruesome ensemble of sculptures, and similar curiosities from Otto Average Consumer’s storehouse of taste. Only the painting as such recognizes the high claims of art. Büttner is closely associated with such young Germans as Walter Dahn and Jiři Georg Dokoupil, and also with one of their angry elders, Jörg Immendorff. He lacks the viciousness of lmmendorff’s attack on social structures and the helplessness of painting, however, or the bluntness of the Cologne painters’ distancing process. The supplicating hands, in a solemn expressionist style and framed against a background of mythical darkness, do urge the question of what might be of importance to art or to the artist in an environment that cares nothing about artists. But on the other hand, if these well-painted but banal myths of a banal environment, which lack any sense of either traumatic oppressiveness or poetic explosiveness, end up being so beautifully bad that they please the bourgeois eye, what then?

In the wake of revolutionary Romanticism, toward the end of the 19th century, landscapes and genre painting abounded to the point of academic petrifaction. Vast numbers of these works fill the museums, satisfying the bourgeois striving for culture. Toward the end of this century we see the start of a similarly academic trend, one that draws on the trivialities of our own time—images less intact than those of cows in pastures, but no more emphatic. What to earlier generations was a secure world is now a frightful one, but that won’t make much difference to later generations, since by that time works such as Büttner’s will no longer have a disturbing effect.

Annelie Pohlen