André Butzer - Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Friday, May 31, 2024 | Phillips
  • “I can’t accept the term ‘pure abstraction’ nor the conception of having four people painted on top of a canvas, as if this was the motif of the painting. What helps me is the ever-lasting peaceful conception of the image itself… There’s nothing painted on top of that entity”.
    — André Butzer

    André Butzer’s Untitled assembles four of his most potently symbolic characters for what could be a pleasant group outing, or a medieval dance of death. At the centre are two childlike, smiling human figures backed against each other: both resembling his golden woman, who ‘embodies the vital force to overcome the disunion between good and evil, creation and destruction, life and death’i. Their neighbour on the left resembles both a candy and a cartoon alien with its round, colourful head: this is one of his Friedens-Siemens-children, named for both the German word for peace and the electronics corporation, said to bridge historical extremes. Their storybook smiles sharply contrast with the jagged features, grinning mouth, and blank eyes of the last figure, alternately known as the ‘Shame-Man’ and the ‘Wanderer’, who carries depths of history and loneliness throughout his endless travels. The latter, older two were once painted by Butzer in much rougher, gloomier styles -and even now, it is unclear whether they are ambushing the middle two or being led to a brighter future.


    Asger Jorn, Letter to my Son, 1956-1957, Tate Collection, London. Artwork: © 2024 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    The Wanderer


    This rich personal mythology is rooted in Butzer’s personal journey and his conflicted relationship with the modern world. As the son of an IBM electronics employee in Stuttgart, the home of Porsche, he felt surrounded by ‘the tragic tendency of industrialism’ii, and searched for a means of escape: chief among this was California, a bigger and brighter vista illuminated by Hollywood’s magic, and second was painting, particularly the surging, emotional, and mysterious figurations of Edvard Munch and Asger Jorn. Once he was able to live in Los Angeles decades later, he discovered similar levels of automation and banality - calling it ‘death in the sunshineiii, and left, following it with a longer series of dark, minimalistic ‘N-Paintings’. More recently, he has attempted living there again for its endless opportunities of plein-air painting, resulting in the bright, bold simplicity of this work alongside a further development of his personal mythology.


    Small World After All

    “For me, it should be something eternal, like an expressive machine that works and calculates in an irrational manner. An eventful, but calm element between life and death that measures the future. The term science fiction caught my eye, since we do not know what it truly is but the term extends to our present nonetheless.”
    —André Butzer

    Alongside this, Butzer gravitated away from the visceral abstractions of earlier artists, instead deciding to confront the bland simplifications of modern media directly: ‘I understood that I had to go where the enemy was and not attack from the outside…embrace negative things and integrate them into my art’iv. In a style he dubs ‘Science-Fiction Expressionism’, he gradually fills his work with recurring characters in the manner of a comic or franchise, each taking on increasing cultural weight through the artist’s storied influences and shifting contexts.


    All inhabit a space colony called NASAHEIM, whose etymology incorporates elements from NASA, Disneyland’s location in Anaheim and the German word for home, contradictorily blending its warmth and domesticity with the coldness and distance of space and an illusory paradise on Earth. Utopian hopes and the simple childhood pleasures referenced by the illustration-like style are contaminated by corporate repetitions and banality.


    Shades of his earlier, more violent work also intrude through the Wanderer figure: he was jointly inspired by The Scream, an insignia of 90s rock band Melvins, and Hölderlin’s Romantic novel Hyperion. He has been savagely distorted in earlier paintings, with splayed innards and harsh skeletal features standing in for traumas of the past, and incidentally an individual with no home anywhere. Even in Butzer’s sunnier recent style and being surrounded by happier characters, he strikes an ominous note: the mystery of how and where he belongs there remains unanswered, contributing to a style that rivals Munch in its mysterious, many-storied symbolism.


    Edvard Munch, The Dance of Life, 1899-1900, National Museum of Art, Norway

    Collector’s Digest


    Recently turned 50 and the subject of a major monograph from Taschen, Stuttgart-born André Butzer has become an established giant of the art world through his storybook-like yet intellectually complex painting style. Leading international collections hold examples of his work, including the Art Institute of Chicago, YUZ Museum in Shanghai, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Museo Novocento in Florence. Phillips holds his auction record, with Chips und Medizin (Das Glück), which sold for £403,200 in London, October 2021. The second-highest, an untitled four-figure painting like this work, sold for $3,276,000 HKD in May 2022: over three times its high estimate. He is currently hosting four solo exhibitions in Europe, including a double 52-work retrospective in Florence at the Museo Stefano Bardini (… und der Tod ist auch ein Leben, 1 March – 9 June) and Museo Novocento (Liebe, Glaube, und Hoffnung, 22 March – 9 June).


    H. Eckstein, 2023, quoted at Galerie Max Hetzler’s page on Andre Butzer, online.

    ii André Butzer, quoted in Michael Slenske, ‘Expressionism, Now with Added Black’, Vice, 11 September 2017, online.

    iii Ibid.

    iv Ibid

    • Provenance

      Max Hetzler Gallery, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Galerie Max Hetzler, Karel Appel, Andre Butzer, William N. Copley, Ida Ekblad, Jeff Elrod, Walton Ford, Tursic & Mille, 1 - 19 September 2020




signed and dated 'A.Butzer ‘20' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
175 x 255.2 cm. (68 7/8 x 100 1/2 in.)
Painted in 2020, this work is registered in the André Butzer Archive and will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné.

Full Cataloguing

HK$700,000 - 900,000 

Sold for HK$1,270,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2027

Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 31 May 2024