Werner Büttner

Characterized by his unsocialized humor, Werner Büttner’s work traces the putrefaction of ideals through visual and literary objects. Toward this end, Büttner pursues a formal bastardization of writing/text and drawing/painting. The outcome is a blend of play, mockery, bitterness, and earnestness. The half-truths of our artistic and political cultures are transmitted by means of electrifying brainstorms, without the sweat of the artist’s brow and without intrusive egocentrism. “You can’t always read between the lines, you’ll go crazy”: that’s the lapidary comment included with the depiction of the man who is drawn between the lines of a letter-sized sheet of paper. Behind everything, and perhaps even in the picture itself, the artist laughs, uncynically, as he speaks—perhaps to us, an art audience in need of support?

With 26 alphabet pictures (“Alphabet,” 1989; a series of 12 lithographs, in editions of 24, entitled Selbst in Situationen (Self in Situations, 1988-89); and 20 drawings, as well as five “salvaged” paintings, 1989, Büttner provokes some strenuous thinking. In Der Mann ohne Kredit (The man without credit), naked fear is written on the subject’s face; he is threatened by the ornamental decorations located in the four corners of the paper that recall knives or instruments of torture. “Esthetics is a little knife, but no one now runs into it,” “Shush, I’m thinking,” and “I drank my breakfast and began to correct the map of Hamburg”; these are utterances about pictures that have preoccupied the artist (along with many other little monstrosities) since 1981, in the ongoing series “Desastres de la Democracia” (Disasters of democracy). Sometimes the drawings in this exhibition, 1988-89, look as if they were made by a dreaming boy who was rudely awakened by a dreadful nightmare, yet they reveal nothing new about the artist Büttner. Still, we enjoy going from drawing to drawing; every so often, the humor melds with uncomfortable references to ideas and ideologies, but everything is easily digested.

In the five so-called “salvaged” pictures, Büttner has covered portions of found paintings with colored liquid paper, thereby wiping out the originals. In others, he has emphasized the image, providing it with new accents. Warm Haben (Being warm), for instance, shows a pink house against a colored background of pale yellow and beige; the title, written in brown script, is part of the work. Viecher (Bugs), Der Königssee (Lake König), Recht haben (Being right), and Auf Wiedersehen (Goodbye) are the titles of the remaining four paintings, which are, in a sense, the artist’s explicatory response to the contents of the found paintings. Thus, Recht haben depicts two bulls embroiled in a fight; Auf Wiedersehen presents horses that, in the artist’s opinion, are heading towards the slaughterhouse—for a very long goodbye.

Basically, Büttner’s works can be understood as historical gestures—an exegetical backward look at art and culture amalgamated with private memories and universal insights.

Norbert Messler

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.