André Butzer - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Thursday, December 1, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “Every image is an abstraction. No matter what’s on it.”
    — André Butzer

    In a world of compromise, André Butzer refuses to do so. For the last three decades, he’s carved his way through the ever-changing sands of art discourse with a wholly unique practice, one that blends the tradition of European expressionism with American popular culture. Deriving from a varied and storied clout of influences, Henri Matisse to Walt Disney, Friedrich Hölderlin to Henry Ford, Butzer creates tapestries of a singular devotion to that which exists around him, and that which lies in his ideation.



    A Castle in the Sky

    “I just follow the roads of pictorial power.”
    — André Butzer

    This complex visual register is what the artist has labelled ‘Science-Fiction Expressionism’i, with which he constructs the fictional world of NASAHEIM, a space colony populated by the Piece-Siemens. In his own words: ‘NASAHEIM is a word creation. The term brings together what constitutes the pictorial in itself. Namely, proximity and distance. These two terms are then pulled together into a non-place which is NASAHEIM. This is not a private mythology, but an impossibility of a very universal kind, a dimensionless locality without a place, whose essence is the threshold or the frequency. Thus, a very vibrating manner – but still almost imperceptibly vibrating, like a sound’i. By founding this imaginary universe, Butzer lends social allegory to his figures who in turn transcend past existing as staffage in his pools of pigment, becoming icons of the future that occupy the liminal spaces between meta-narratives like utopianism and mass consumerism. Rendered in child-like abstraction, the artist calls his creatures to be ‘an embodiment of the generally prevailing deformation, which relates to the idea of a future image of man, body, flesh and of potato chips. It is an image of man that one often encounters in everyday culture’ii. What becomes manifest through these images is a breed of expressionism as pictorial space protrudes outwards into our presence, granting entry to Butzer’s creative genius.



    Free Association

    “Titian said painting is about flesh and water, and I say it is about flesh and lemonade.”
    — André Butzer

    The present lot reflects his recent move to California in 2019, a vibrant palette replacing the Soulages-esque, dark monochromatic tones of his N-Paintings. Entropy lingers in these sober works, as does Butzer’s commitment to utopianism. Indeed, this period in his oeuvre functions as a kind of endgame for his painterly ambitions (if such a label is even possible for an artist of such ceaseless industry): ‘The black paintings are decisive: they are the utmost limit from which I had to return. Never can any image undo the borderline experience I had and still have with the black paintings. One does not simply jump back from the boundary; instead, everything returns, but differently. They, the black paintings, are the foundation of all images before and after. They are the place my paintings come from. Place of birth and place of death, beginning and end, but set into one’iii. The East Coast’s temperate climate allowed for Butzer to paint en plein air year-round, suffusing his canvasses with dynamic vigour and opening the door for figuration to mesh seamlessly with his dedication to abstraction.


    Untitled presents four figures set against a teal backdrop – chromatic totalism that is a hallmark of his practice. These figures are not suspended in mutual perpetuity, but instead engaging with one another jovially. These characters are otherworldly yet familiar, bearing distinct resemblance to the flattened caricatures of Jean Dubuffet. Naturally, Butzer’s abstraction disseminates from form to interaction as their childlike expressions and simplified features turn conversation into dialogue more fitting for a Kurt Vonnegut novel.



    Jean Dubuffet, Vont et Viennent, 1980
    Artwork: © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Estate of Marcel Duchamp


    While three of these figures can be allotted into a similar genus, the figure on the right provokes a different association: cloaked in burnt drabs of brown and gilded with an unsettling visage embellished with vacant eyes, his presence redefines the painting’s ambience as our eye travels left to right across the composition. Either the sinister underbelly of utopianism or rather, final-stage capitalism is made manifest in his works. The basis of his inception produces a plurality of theories, but one thing is for certain – his inclusion in the otherwise gentile scene makes the work teem with a certain otherness. For symbolic guidance, we can turn to an interview with the artist conducted with Vice in 2017, predating his relocation to California, in which he declared ‘LA is like death in the sunshine’iv. Such broodings indicate that the exuberance of his practice is indeed tempered by a darker side, which places his N-Paintings in a different context. In any case, Untitled’s unsettling ambiguity does not repel but attract as we cannot help to ponder the origins, desires, and ambitions of these figures; plunging into Butzer’s Pandora’s box of futuristic fantasy is a pleasure second to none – dive headfirst.



    Collectors Digest


    Testament to his growing eminence in both the commercial and institutional spheres of the art world, Taschen released a comprehensive study into Butzer’s work this summer.


    Butzer has been the subject of solo shows at major institutions including the Kestnergesellschaft, Hannover; Kunsthalle Nuremberg; and the Yuz Museum, Shanghai. His work forms part of the collections of Carré d’art, Nîmes; the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; MONA, Tasmania; the Rubell Family, Miami; MOCA, Los Angeles; and the Marciano Collection, Los Angeles, amongst others.


    Butzer’s work is held in various leading, internationally recognised collections, including: Scharpff Collection; Taschen Collection; Goetz Collection; Rubell Collection; Fondazione Prada; and Colección Lázaro.



    i André Butzer, quoted in Shawn Ghassemitari, ‘TASCHEN Published a Massive Book on André Butzer’, Hypeart, June 2022, online

    ii André Butzer, quoted in Hans Werner Holzwarth, ‘André Butzer: Paints from 1999 to 2021’, Taschen Magazine, Summer 2022, online

    iii ibid.

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

    • Provenance

      Galerie Max Hetzler, London
      Private Collection, Sydney
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      Georg Von Bernstorff, ed., 'André Butzer. Von Berlin nach Kalifornien – Matisse und der Science-Fiction-Expressionismus', SALON, Summer 2020, vol. 77, p. 83 (illustrated)
      Hans Werner Halzwarth, André Butzer, Cologne, 2021, pp. 356-357 (illustrated)




signed and dated 'A. Butzer '19' on the reverse
oil on canvas
190 x 285 cm. (74 3/4 x 112 1/4 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

HK$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for HK$1,701,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 1 December 2022