Artist: Michael Buthe
Exhibition title: retrospective
Venue: S.M.A.K., Ghent, Belgium
Date: March 5 – June 5, 2016
Photography: all images copyright and courtesy of the artist and S.M.A.K.
S.M.A.K. presents a retrospective of work by Michael Buthe (1944–1994). This German artist participated in ground-breaking exhibitions such as ‘When Attitudes Became Form’ (1969) and ‘Documenta V’ (1972). In the early 1970s Buthe became increasingly fascinated by non-European cultures. His work responds in a subversive yet imaginary way to the disappearance of spirituality and myth from the Western world. The exhibition is grouped around his only two remaining installations and combines a selection of works from Buthe’s short but intense career from the late 1960s to the beginning of the 1990s.
Taking his lead from the German “Informel”- and American Minimal Art, Buthe’s textile objects from the 1960s and early 1970s give a tactile response to the crisis in the medium of painting at that time. Emphasizing the support – e.g. canvas and frame – his objects are dyed, torn, shredded and sewn back together. In emphasizing softness, organic elements and a process-based approach, the Post-Minimalist notion of the fragmentary, unresolved nature of things is also made manifest in his sensuous drawings and collages from that period.
From 1971 on, Buthe lived in Morocco, the Middle East and Iran for long periods. Accordingly, his work increasingly mirrored non-European influences. It encompasses assemblages, luminously coloured canvases and collages, and rich and colourful diaries. The period culminates in the Musée du Echnathon (1976), from which only some individual works and the nameplate have remained: in the spirit of a lifelike Institutional Critique, for several months Buthe transformed his Cologne studio into a living environment, hosting exhibitions and performances by other artists, including some from the art scene of the Rhineland from that time. In Buthe’s holistic approach, social life provided artistic material in the same way as everyday commodities can.
Buthe’s nomadic notion of sculpture – like life, the artwork should be constantly transforming – did not allow for standstill. Some of his works were developed over extended periods and presented in different settings. Although Buthe created a vast number of environments, only two installations have remained complete: Taufkapelle mit Papa und Mama (1984) was first shown at the former Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent; Die heilige Nacht der Jungfräulichkeit (1992) was created for Jan Hoet’s ‘Documenta IX’. The presence of these two environments makes Buthe’s spatial thinking tangible.
This exhibition is the second solo show of Michael Buthe’s work in Ghent. But whereas his 1984 exhibition at the former Museum of Contemporary Art represented a particular moment in time, this second show also focuses on Buthe’s early and late work, including the starting point of his carreer. And even though his oeuvre is influenced by numerous artistic movements from Abstract Expressionism through Dada to Minimalism and Performance, it tends to avoid categorization.
‘Michael Buthe | Retrospective’ is a cooperative project by the Kunstmuseum in Luzern, S.M.A.K. in Ghent and Haus der Kunst in Munich. Initiative and concept: Heinz Stahlhut, Kunstmuseum Luzern. The exhibition in Ghent is curated by Martin Germann and Dirk Pauwels.
Michael Buthe, Taufkapelle mit Papa und Mama, 1984, S.M.A.K. © Dirk Pauwels
Michael Buthe at S.M.A.K., 2016 © Dirk Pauwels
Michael Buthe at S.M.A.K., 2016 © Dirk Pauwels
Michael Buthe, Der Engel und sein Schatten, 1974, Collection Sammlung Rosenstiel, Cologne
Michael Buthe, Ohne Titel, ca. 1970, Collection Kunstmuseum Luzern
Michael Buthe, ohne Titel, 1989, Collection S.M.A.K., Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent
Michael Buthe, Boulli Afrikaa, 1972, Courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York
Michael Buthe, Buchobjekt, 1976, Buchhandlung Walter König, Cologne
Michael Buthe, Diabolo mönstrale, 1979, Collection Sammlung V
Michael Buthe, Elvira Oasis, 1972-1977, Michael Buthe Estate, Cologne
Michael Buthe, Le dernier secret de Fatima, 1985, Michael Buthe Estate, Cologne, Courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York
Michael Buthe, Die heilige Nacht der Jungfräulichkeit, 1992, Kolumba, Cologne
Michael Buthe, Die heilige Nacht der Jungfräulichkeit, 1992, © Dirk Pauwels, S.M.A.K., 2016
Michael Buthe, Honigtuch, ca. 1972, Private collection, Cologne
Michael Buthe, Krokodil, 1973, Kunstmuseum Luzern
Michael Buthe, My Love to Etienne, 1969, Kunstmuseum Luzern, © Pro Litteris, Zürich
Michael Buthe, ohne Titel, 1970, Kunstmuseum Luzern, © Pro Litteris, Zürich
Michael Buthe, Ohne Titel, 1993, © Pro Litteris, Zürich
Michael Buthe, Paillettentuch, 1970-1971, Private collection
Michael Buthe, Weltkarte, 1970, © Pro Litteris, Zürich