Marlborough Contemporary | ~Wild Youth~ Werner Büttner

by Drew Penner

The Düsseldorf Academy scene of the 1960s was a unique time. “We swam in a pool of hope,” Gerhard Richter told Art in America in 2009 about that post-WWII European world.

But by the time Werner Büttner put his mind to the canvass in the 70s, things had become a tad more complicated. Modernism began to disintegrate into existential perspectives. In the proceeding years the visual world morphed from a select group of vaunted artists to creatives striving for anti-hero status.

“I’m a lazy artist,” Büttner said, during in a 2016 talk at the Marlborough Contemporary. “I only paint when I’m convinced the painting has to be done.”

Büttner, The Choir of Yea-Sayers (Chor der Jasager), 2018, oil on canvas, 74 3-4 x 59 in., 190 x 150 cm.

Büttner, The Choir of Yea-Sayers (Chor der Jasager), 2018, oil on canvas, 74 3-4 x 59 in., 190 x 150 cm.

That’s the new ethos that began to emerge in the second half of last century. Wry and sarcastic. Emotive and experimental. Born and raised in German Democratic Republic during what he calls the “good old days of the Cold War,” Büttner participated in the Junge Wilde (aka “Wild Youth”) wave that hit Europe with full force.

It mirrors the influence of Transavantgarde and Neo-expressionism — to name a few worth looking at from — and continues to etch the psychic landscape today.

Büttner, Something Very Blond Comes to Town (Etwas sehr Blondes betritt die Stadt), 2018, oil on canvas, 74 3-4 x 59 in., 190 x 150 cm.

Büttner, Something Very Blond Comes to Town (Etwas sehr Blondes betritt die Stadt), 2018, oil on canvas, 74 3-4 x 59 in., 190 x 150 cm.

Curators at the Marlborough Contemporary have now mounted a solo Büttner exhibition, which showcases new paintings, “found-painting interventions,” and sculpture. They’re calling it: Werner Büttner: Something very blond comes to town. It runs April 2 - May 2, 2019 in New York.

Büttner, Prisoner, lightly tortured (Gefangener leicht angefoltert), 2017, oil on canvas, 59 x 47 1-4 in., 150 x 120 cm.

Büttner, Prisoner, lightly tortured (Gefangener leicht angefoltert), 2017, oil on canvas, 59 x 47 1-4 in., 150 x 120 cm.

They hope the global public can reflect on just how significant such tectonic ruptures have been.

Büttner, In the Realm of the Senses (Im Reich der Sinne), 2018, oil on canvas, 74 3-4 x 74 3-4 in., 190 x 190 cm.

Büttner, In the Realm of the Senses (Im Reich der Sinne), 2018, oil on canvas, 74 3-4 x 74 3-4 in., 190 x 190 cm.

And so we get work like Problems of Minigolf in European Painting, Allegory of any Old Indifferent Nature, Grey Girls in Front of Phallic Form, Prisoner, lightly tortured and In the Realm of the Senses. It’s ordinary and exciting. Irreverent and vivid.

Büttner, Grey Girls in Front of Phallic Form (Graue Maedchen vor phallischer Form), 2018, oil on canvas, 59 x 47 1-4 in., 150 x 120 cm.

Büttner, Grey Girls in Front of Phallic Form (Graue Maedchen vor phallischer Form), 2018, oil on canvas, 59 x 47 1-4 in., 150 x 120 cm.

The catalog includes an essay by Kenny Schachter, where he reflects on points of personal connection, and the artist’s historic legacy. “Büttner said he and his pals were trying to expand the range of painting motifs,” he writes, noting the man’s self-depricating personality. “Yet you get the impression that Büttner was, in essence, cultivating imperfection. He wanted to see how lowbrow and dumbed-down he could go, testing timeworn notions in art.”

Büttner, Why not die out? (Warum nicht aussterben), 2018, oil on canvas, 59 x 47 1-4 in., 150 x 120 cm.

Büttner, Why not die out? (Warum nicht aussterben), 2018, oil on canvas, 59 x 47 1-4 in., 150 x 120 cm.

The Junge Wild term, which has long been tagged on Büttner, is a potent one. It took on new life while some commentators denigrated the role of Helmut Kohl, who chaired the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), back in the 90s. With Angela Merkel stepping back from her own role as the leader of the CDU in December, there’s certainly room for activists, and artists, to question the direction of the established order on the Continent.

Supposedly, Büttner wasn’t trying to revive his name on a grande scale.

Büttner, Allegory of any Old Indifferent Nature (Allegorie irgendeiner indifferenten Natur), 2017, oil on canvas, 59 x 47 1-4 in., 150 x 120 cm.

Büttner, Allegory of any Old Indifferent Nature (Allegorie irgendeiner indifferenten Natur), 2017, oil on canvas, 59 x 47 1-4 in., 150 x 120 cm.

“I prefer to remain a sleeping beauty,” he said while seated next to the Marlborough Contemporary professor Andrew Renton and patron Harald Falckenberg during the 2016 talk. “It seemed healthier to me.”

That’s not to say he’s sickeningly humble. He knows his worth, but he’s still amused by it.

Speaking about previous exposure at Marlborough, he said, “Anybody with a brain and a sense of taste loved it — or at least pretended to.”

Büttner, Cloning In The Family (Father and Son) (Klonen in der Familie [Vater und Sohn]), 2018, oil on canvas, 59 x 47 1-4 in., 150 x 120 cm.

Büttner, Cloning In The Family (Father and Son) (Klonen in der Familie [Vater und Sohn]), 2018, oil on canvas, 59 x 47 1-4 in., 150 x 120 cm.

Werner Büttner opens at Marlborough Contemporary on April 2, 6 - 8 PM 

545 W 25th St, New York 10001