Home Arts Andrea Büttner explores philosophy and art history in Kunstmuseum Basel exhibition

Andrea Büttner explores philosophy and art history in Kunstmuseum Basel exhibition

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The heart of relationships at the Kunstmuseum Basel is German artist Andrea Büttner’s largest solo exhibition to date, featuring almost 90 works from the past 15 years. In addition to slide shows, a room-filling mural, tables and benches, his Bread Paintings (2011-16) stand alongside works by Hans Holbein the Younger and Willem Van Aelst in the Old Masters section of the Kunstmuseum.

Rooted in philosophy and art history, Büttner’s art explores themes such as shame – the subject of his doctorate at the Royal College of Art in London – work, poverty and monastic existences, as well as than the ideologies that historically underlie craftsmanship and organic gardening. Although best known for her woodcuts and etchings, she has branched out into a variety of other media such as video installations, books, wood carvings and textiles.

Nominated for the Turner Prize in 2017, Büttner has lived and worked in Berlin since 2016.

Buttner’s facility vase (vase, 2021). The artist says she is interested in the “fetishization of craftsmanship” in the field of art
Photo by Julian Salinas, © Andrea Büttner/ProLitteris, Zürich

The Art Newspaper: You’ve been interested in the subject of shame for a long time. A fresco produced for the Basel exhibition, punishments of shame, shows images of public humiliation from the Middle Ages to the present day. What are the links between shame and art?

Andrea Buttner: Punishments of shame are part of the history of Western art – the image of Christ on the cross is the most prominent example – but they are also on the increase in our modern times. Exposure and visibility are part of the punishment, of the pain.

We live in a culture where institutions and artists all seek visibility as if it were something positive. But if you look at the history of punishments of shame, that’s not a positive thing. Shame is linked to image, because it is about being seen. Shameful punishments are, in a way, exhibition strategies.

You also have a performance presented at the Kunstmuseum during Art Basel, called destruction of pianos (2014/23). Can you describe this?

I’ve collected all the video footage I could find of piano destructions in art history – Fluxus, for example, but also later. This sequence is shown and at the same time a group of nine pianists plays a concert on nine grand pianos.

This gesture of destroying a piano has been repeated so often in the history of art, mainly by male artists. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the piano was associated with a female bourgeois education. The repetition of the destruction of the piano makes this latest gesture of destruction of bourgeois culture quite ridiculous – again and again, another radical male artist destroying another piano. There’s also another kind of repetition involved when you’re learning to play an instrument and it’s so unheroic in comparison.

During the pandemic, you went to Beelitz near Berlin, famous for its asparagus. At this time, the news raised the specter of a shortage of foreign pickers and whether it was safe for pickers to work together. What drew you to harvesting asparagus as a subject?

If you think of Manet, asparagus is a subject of art history that also has to do with the history of realism. I went to work outside. It was interesting because it’s kind of ridiculous – a middle-aged lady with a sketchbook. I am not free from worries about my drawing skills. I thought if the reapers came to see how I draw them, I might be ashamed – the drawings are quite sketchy and quick. Maybe people who harvest can even draw better, who knows? But they have to do the work to finance their family or their life and I can afford to do it during my work time. So I felt the drawing was very useful as a lens on the economic situation of me as an artist and of them as seasonal migrant workers.

It was only when I was there [that] I realized that again, I’m showing people bending over. I see their hands, they have a hood because they often wear hoodies when it’s cold. Again, it is the form of the person who begs or the person who prays.

Installation of wooden sculpted asparagus by Andrea Büttner at the Kunstmuseum Basel Photo: Julian Salinas © Andrea Büttner/ProLitteris, Zürich

You also had wooden sculptures of asparagus sticks made.

I thought the shape of asparagus is a bit like a pestle, and that gave me the idea to have it sculpted. This work, which is different from the asparagus of different schools of sculpture, speaks of the fetishization of craftsmanship in the field of art. It ties into my main concern at the moment, the roots of craftsmanship and organic gardening – all those things that seem leftist but can also have quite reactionary roots.

What are you currently working on?

I’m preparing an exhibition at K21 [in Dusseldorf] which is in the fall. I’m also editing a video that I shot at Liberty department store in London in 2017, which I haven’t shown yet. I wanted to think about William Morris and Arts and Crafts, so I contacted Pauline Paucker, an artist and art historian, and we went to Liberty to talk about socialism and good taste.

What was your experience of Art Basel?

I went to Art Basel for the first time right after attending the opening of the Documenta in which I participated, in 2012, and I was deeply shocked, it was such a crass contrast for me. I thought these people went to Art Basel because in their minds they could see all the art at once. And for me, you could see art at Documenta, it was such a difference. I see it from a distance now, but I don’t look for art in it. I’m going to meet colleagues and I enjoy this part.

The heart of relationships Kunstmuseum Basel, until October 1

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