Andrea Büttner uses different mediums, materials, and conceptual approaches to explore a range of interrelated themes such as botany, Catholicism, shame, poverty and art history. Her work is often characterised by rich colours and formal directness. While her practice emerges from a conceptual starting point, the hand of the artist is omnipresent in the work, as Büttner is known for her use of media that were deemed unfashionable and belonging to the realm of craft such as woodcut and glass painting.
Beggars is an ongoing series of woodblock prints based on Ernst Barlach’s sculpture Verhüllte Bettlerin (1919), where the artist repeats the simplified form of a beggar characterised by shrouded shoulders and downward pointing hands. The works develop out of Büttner’s interest in Franciscan spirituality and in the iconography of poverty in visual culture. They speak of the relationship between poverty and shame, between public and private, between what is communicated to the external world and the inner feelings of the individual.
The Phone Etchings are an abstract depiction of an everyday gesture: evidencing traces of the artist’s scrolling on her smartphone over the course of a number of Google searches. These gestural marks are transposed and vastly enlarged into etchings. The immediacy of Büttner’s onscreen touch contrasts with the slowness of the manual printmaking process.
Büttner’s series of etchings, Asparagus Harvest (2021), depict the harvesting of white asparagus from fields in Belizt, outside of Berlin. Composed by observing and sketching the harvest en plein-air, Büttner considers the hand gestures and postures adopted by labourers in order to harvest efficiently. These works attend to the kinds of physical contact involved in such proficient labour: from a stooped posture, fingers locate asparagus tips within dense soil, later snapping the shaft from its root with an asparagus knife.
Asparagus Harvest places focus on a form of being-together, figuring those who continue a labour that is determinedly minor. Each etching traces the artist’s hand in depiction of the very handiwork of the labourer. Utilising the etching as a necessarily tactile process, Büttner foregrounds the contingent social judgement in the valuation of labour between artistic practice, gendered artisanship and seasonal wage labour. By drawing this comparison, Büttner addresses both the material physicality of work as well as its immaterial qualities, including the humiliation inherent to labour exploitation.
Started in 2021, Büttner’s series of vases formally responds to organic shapes, adorned with leaves and spherical nodules that recall flower bulbs. These elements relate to Büttner’s ongoing interest in organic matters such as potatoes, stones and moss. Glass has also long been a medium of choice for the artist, illustrated in her ongoing series of reversed glass paintings. Here, the playful aesthetic of the vases can be seen as a nod to Post-Modernism, but it also sits within Büttner’s ongoing questioning of the boundaries between Fine Art and craft, high-brow culture and middle-class taste.
A selection of glass-mounted postcards considers the formal expression of religious spaces. Among the structures depicted in the postcards are stained glass windows designed by John Piper in Coventry Cathedral and the altar fresco mural by Georg Meistermann in the Maria Regina Martyrum in Berlin. These particular features are selected as elements of religious space which articulate the convergence of formal abstraction and symbolism. The postcards also gesture to the relation of devotional spaces to other social functions, including mourning, atoning, and healing. The Maria Regina Martyrum, a Roman Catholic church located near the former Plötzensee Prison, was occupied as an execution site under the Nazi regime. The church was constructed in the 1960s to honour those who died resisting the regime, functioning as a religious space as well as a tribute and memorial. The postcards are a result of Büttner’s recent research involving the Karmel Heilig Blut Dachau to inform forthcoming video projects.
A group of four works on paper feature frame-like forms that are themselves circumscribed by a metal border. These forms recall Derrida’s notion of the ‘supplement’, defined as an entity that is seemingly a secondary addition from the outside, but which in fact provides what is missing within the thing which it ‘supplements’.
These ink outlines bring to mind the glazing bars of stained glass windows—which John Piper referred to as ‘splendid discipline’—that provide a necessary structural function yet also serve as lines to delineate form. The works also echo the complex roles attributed to frames in Western art history. For instance, in the medieval period the frame of an altarpiece did not always appear as an enclosure, rather the frame imparted the architectural setting of the painted picture and enabled the depth of simulated space to become established. Moreover, as art historian Wolfgang Kemp noted in The Rhetoric of the Frame: Essays on the Boundaries of the Artwork (1996), frames in this period were often more costly and elaborate than the art they contained and thus key in conveying the value of the altarpiece. Questioning how content is distinguished from the frame, these works extend Büttner’s ongoing examination of structures and codes within social and cultural systems.
Büttner has repeatedly employed the motif of the potato, taking an interest in its inelegant, plump formal quality. In Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters (1885), one of the most well-known art historical appearances of the potato, the peasants are rendered in ‘the colour of a really dusty potato’, according to the painter, thus forming a metonymic correlation between the potato and the threadbare manual labourers at the dinner table. Büttner’s work relates these formal and historical associations to a religious context, transferring what is conventionally tied to the earthly and the grounded to an elevated position recalling celestial religious frescoes.
A moss garden holding many different species of plants occupies the gallery floor. Beneath the bed and partly obscured are glazed clay sculptures and tuff stones. The moss has been collected and carefully arranged by Ray Tangney, Head of the collection of Lower Plants at National Museum of Wales. The moss requires moist conditions in order to exist and thrive in the duration of its display.
In What is so terrible about craft?, 2019, Büttner explores the relationship between intimate artistic production and public exposure, as well as the interrelation between ethics and aesthetics. The dual-screen work is composed of two German interior spaces, a church and a department store for household goods. The work examines how Western European traditions of craft have been infused with models of life and ways of being. Büttner questions whom these models are serving and how craft is deployed to ‘heal the wounds of modernity’. The film considers craft’s ongoing relation to reactionary political movements, as well as its role in national narratives and religious identity formation.
In Karmel Dachau, 2019, Büttner engages with the Carmelite convent Heilig Blut, founded in 1964 and located next to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. The proximity to the historic site of suffering was a deliberate decision by the Carmelites, who intended the convent to serve, alongside the memorial site, as a space for reconciliation. Büttner’s film opens a dialogue with the nuns of the convent to consider themes of remembrance and repression, religion and violence, contemplation and forgiveness.
Little Works, 2007, offers a glimpse into the lives of a closed order of Carmelite nuns in Notting Hill, London. Since Büttner herself was unable to enter the walls of the convent, she handed the camera to one of the sisters to record the making of ‘little works’—small, hand-crafted offerings made in the nuns’ recreational time, ranging from crochet baskets to religious icons. Among the footage are individual interviews with the nuns discussing their chosen handicraft and a collective display of their works presented akin to an exhibition. While the nuns’ concerns over the manufacture and display of their craft works are similar to the self-doubts of a professional artist, Little Works presents a wistful image of a creative microcosm untouched by the compromises of a secular age, while raising questions about the value systems existing around creative production.
Andrea Büttner: No Fear, No Shame, No Confusion
K21, Düsseldorf, Germany
28 October 2023 – 18 February 2024
EXHIBITIONS at Hollybush Gardens
An excessive ellipse, a sort of distribution
Andrea Büttner, Cynthia Hawkins, Mitchell Kehe, Liz Magor, Josephine Pryde
30 June – 5 August 2023
The Sky Is Leaden In The South: An Evocation Through Grey
Andrea Büttner, Helen Cammock, Lubaina Himid, Ellen Lesperance, Liliana Moro, Ruth Proctor, Charlotte Prodger, Lis Rhodes
13 March – 31 July 2020
Curves to the Apple
Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Andrea Büttner, Dorothy Iannone, Reto Pulfer and Dieter Roth
12 July – 15 August 2019
You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows
Aaron Angell, Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz, Andrea Büttner, Helen Cammock, Knut Henrik Henriksen, Pierre Huyghe, Jochen Lempert, Bruno Pacheco
17 January – 22 February 2014
Andrea Büttner interviewed by Ellen Mara de Wachter
Interview by Ellen Mara de Wachter, Art Monthly, June 2023
Andrea Büttner über das Liber Vagatorum
Article by Andrea Büttner, Monopol, 11 January 2022
Rückzug Kommt Nicht in Frage
Interview by Ursula Scheer, Frankfurter Allgemeine Woche, April 2020
Review: Andrea Büttner at Hollybush Gardens, London
Review by Emily LaBarge, Artforum, Vol. 58 No. 5, January 2020
On Vulnerability and Doubt
Review by Sophie Knezic, Frieze, No. 205, September 2019
Andrea Büttner on Her Iconographies of Poverty
Interview by Juliana Halpert, Artforum, 23 October 2018
Andrea Büttner: Gesamtzusammenhang
Review by Aoife Rosenmeyer, ArtReview, May 2017
Embarrassment of Riches
Feature by Brian Dillon, Frieze, No. 180, June–August 2016
Feature by Julia Bryan Wilson, Parkett, Vol. 97, 2015
Angle of Repose: The Art of Andrea Büttner
Feature by Martin Herbert, Artforum, Vol. 53 No. 7, March 2015
Review: Andrea Büttner at Hollybush Gardens, London
Review by Charlotte Bonham-Carter, Art in America, May 2012
Andrea Büttner, “Moos/Moss”
Review by Laura McLean-Ferris, Art Agenda, 16 February 2012
Andrea Büttner (b. 1972, Stuttgart, Germany), lives and works Berlin, Germany, and is Professor for Art in the Contemporary Context at Kunsthochschule Kassel. She received a PhD from the Royal College of Art, London, and prior to that studied at the Humboldt University of Berlin and Berlin University of the Arts. Her practice connects art history with social and ethical issues, exploring broad-ranging topics such as poverty, work, community, belief, botany, Catholicism, and philosophy. Her work is based on thorough research into specific areas or situations, and is articulated through diverse formats including printmaking, sculpture, painting, photography, and video. Büttner was shortlisted for the 2017 Turner Prize and is a winner of the 2009 Max Mara Art Prize for Women.
Significant solo exhibitions include The Heart of Relations, Kunstmuseum Basel (2023); Shepherds and Kings, Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein at the Johanniterkirche, Feldkirch, Austria (2022); Andrea Büttner, Hollybush Gardens, London (2021); What is so terrible about craft?, Kunstverein München, Germany (2019); The Heart of Relations, Hollybush Gardens, London (2019); Shepherds and Kings, Bergen Kunsthall, Norway (2018); Hammer Projects: Andrea Büttner, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, USA (2017); Beggars and iPhones, Kunsthalle Wien, Austria (2015); Andrea Büttner, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, USA (2015), BP Spotlight: Andrea Büttner, Tate Britain, London, UK (2014); and Andrea Büttner, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany (2014).
Selected group shows include Fruits of Labor, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Sint-Martens- Latem, Belgium; Saint Francis of Assisi, National Gallery, London; The Return: New collection exhibition, Musée Régional d’Art Contemporain Occitanie / Pyrénées-Méditerranée, Sérignan, France; Aimless: Confronting Imago Mundi, Es Baluard Museu d’Art Contemporani de Palma, Palma, Spain (all 2023); The Remains of 100 Days…, Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany; YOYI! Care, Repair, Heal, Gropius Bau, Berlin, Germany; Fluxus Sex Ties / Hier spielt die Musik!, Nassauischer Kunstverein Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden, Germany; Here After, Bridge Projects, Los Angeles, CA (all 2022); The Botanical Revolution, Centraal Museum, Utrecht; Donation Outset — KW Production series, Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, Germany; The Roaring Twenties, Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain; The Displacement Effect, Capitain Petzel, Berlin, Germany (all 2021); Parliament of Plants, Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein; Smoke and Mirrors, Kunsthaus Zürich; Amish Quilts Meet Modern Art, Staaliches Textil-und Industriemuseum Augsburg, Germany; and The Botanical Mind, Camden Art Centre, London (all 2020); On Vulnerability and Doubt, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, Australia (2019); 33rd Bienal de São Paulo (2018); Turner Prize, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, UK (2017); Broken White, Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, the Netherlands (2016); British Art Show 8, UK touring exhibition (2016); and dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany (2012).
Her work is held the collections of art institutions internationally, including Tate, London, GB; Museum of Modern Art, New York, US; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, US; National Museum Cardiff, Wales; MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, DE; Museum Ludwig, Cologne, DE; Lenbachhaus, Munich, DE; Kunstmuseum Bonn, Bonn, DE; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, DE; Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, DE; Julia Stoschek Collection, Düsseldorf, DE; Reina Sofia, Madrid, ES; Kunsthas Zürich, CH; Walter Phillips Gallery, The Banff Centre, CA; Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia, IT.