Andrea Büttner’s art practice casts a wide net, involving printmaking, sculpture, painting, film and collaborative projects. Her subjects are equally diverse: botany, religion, philosophy and art history are all topics she has explored in the past. She often also references other artists and thinkers such as HAP Grieshaber, Immanuel Kant, Gwen John, Martin Kippenberger, Dieter Roth and Simone Weil. Büttner, who was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2017 and won the Max Mara Prize for female artists in 2009, is known for her bold use of what is often seen as unfashionable or old-fashioned, such as woodcut or reverse glass painting. Notions of shame, vulnerability, poverty and embarrassment run throughout her work.
Four works by Andrea Büttner are currently on display in the Contemporary Art Society’s temporary exhibition space at 16 Mount Street. The selection of works available are by many of the same artists that the Contemporary Art Society has acquired for museums across the UK in the past, with a percentage of all sales going towards funds for art purchase for the Contemporary Art Society’s Museum Members.
For Untitled (Sun) (2009) and for Untitled (sleeping scholar) (2009), on display in the main gallery, Büttner chose the process of reverse glass painting for the medium’s historic tradition. A ‘naive’ technique popularised in 19th century folk art across Austria, Bavaria and Slovakia, it later declined in popularity during the inter-war period. Büttner first developed her glass paintings in Bavaria to create images that have a luminous singularity. Through this rather neglected medium, Büttner creates images ranging from minimal vistas and studies of bread, to fragments of 13th and 14th century gravestones depicting reading scholars. This combination of medium and content illuminates Büttner’s interest in the relationships of the mundane and spiritual, faith and doubt.
Upstairs in the viewing room, Plant (2017) is a woodcut based on a life-drawing that Büttner made of a house plant while researching the iconography of poverty at the Warburg Institute in London. There, the windowsills are entirely lined with potted plants. Botanical life is a recurring theme in Büttner’s practice, in particular mosses, a plant that interests her for its ubiquity and its associations with littleness and lowliness. Photos of moss species and installations of moss-covered rocks have featured in exhibitions since 2010.
More recent projects have included a group of large-scale photographs showing the ruins of former greenhouse structures and plant beds at the Dachau Concentration Camp, where prisoners tended plantations that supported Nazi research into biodynamic gardening. A series of woodcuts, etchings and installations have also focused on asparagus and the labour of its cultivation and harvest. All of these works, including Plant, connect plant-life with cultural, historical, and socio-political concerns.
The last two works by Andrea Büttner on show at Mount Street are from the Corner woodcut series. Both show an arbitrary coordinate shaped by a trilateral convergence of colour planes. At once a geometric shorthand and a familiar space of banishment, the corner motif in Büttner’s work points to nuances of experienced shame and conjures up expressions such as ‘go stand in the corner’.
As early as 2014 the Contemporary Art Society acquired a major selection of works by Andrea Büttner for Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. The exhibition Hidden Marriage in the same year brought together two seemingly disparate parts of the collection of the museum: the drawings of Gwen John and moss from the Museum’s Herbarium. The acquisition of her work through the Contemporary Art Society – comprising a video, woodcuts and screen-prints – built on the existing relationship between Büttner’s work and the Museum’s collection.
Büttner’s video Little Works (2007), watchable HERE, was filmed in a closed Carmelite order in London. Büttner, unable to enter the convent, enlisted the help of Sister Luke, one of the nuns in the order, who filmed her sisters’ ‘little works’, which meant their small creative projects such as crocheted bowls, drawings and candles. The screen print Grille depicts a partly concealed view into the convent whilst also showing its inaccessibility to members of the public. The colourful woodcut Vogelpredigt/Sermon To The Birds (2010) also relates to religious matters, depicting St. Francis of Assisi. Büttner’s contemporary works in National Museum Wales’s collection have powerful links to Gwen John’s paintings in the museum, relating to closed religious communities some hundred years earlier, like Mère Poussepin Seated at a Table.
Andrea Büttner (b. 1972, Stuttgart, Germany) lives and works in Berlin. Her book Shame was published by Kőnig Books in 2020.
The CAS at Mount Street, 16 Mount Street, London W1K 2RH. Open Tuesday-Friday 10.00-18.00, Saturday 12.00-18.00. Exhibition continues until 31 August 2021. www.contemporaryartsociety.org/mount-street