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  • 'I believe in painting as one of the sources of life. It's not that life is represented in painting, it's that painting has been bringing up life, always like light.' —Andre ButzerThe centre piece of André Butzer’s first solo show with Galerie Max Hetzler in 2003, Chips und Pepsi und Medizin (Das Glück) is a significant work from the artist’s early figurative series, featuring characteristically oversized, cartoonish figures executed in expressive sweeps of bold, bright colour. The only work included in the 2003 exhibition to focus on a group rather than the individual figure, Chips und Pepsi und Medizin (Das Glück) is a narrative lynchpin in the artist’s oeuvre, introducing us to key, recurring figures from his invented ‘NASAHEIM’ universe that he has returned to in more recent years following a period of abstraction. Larger than life and impossible to ignore, André Butzer pushes against the possibilities of his medium – or, as The New Yorker aptly described Butzer’s debut ‘Think neo-COBRA, going for broke: Asger Jorn without brakes. Glops, slathers, and tube-squeezed skeins mount frontal assaults of blazing hues on big canvases’.i

     

    nstallation View of the present work in the 2003 Galarie Max Hetzler exhibition Chips und Pepsi und Medizin Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin | Paris | London
    Installation View of the present work in the 2003 Galarie Max Hetzler exhibition Chips und Pepsi und Medizin Courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin | Paris | London

    NASAHEIM, Science Fiction Expressionism and ‘the Wanderer’

     

    Born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1973, Butzer’s work blends early European Expressionism with American popular culture, working between these two referents in developing a bold commentary on mass culture in modern life.

     

    Confidently and energetically executed, the parade of somewhat grotesque, comic characters jostling for space across the canvas recalls the macabre carnivalesque qualities of James Ensor’s proto-Expressionism. Applying pressure to the representational limits of colour and form, Ensor was an important precursor to European Expressionism and his influence is clearly discernible in the more theatrical elements of Butzer’s figurative work. Like Ensor, Butzer conjures a colourful, carnival world that exists alongside our own; one that is shaped according to what the German artist dubs his ‘Science Fiction Expressionism’.

     

    James Ensor, The Intrigue, 1890, oil on canvas, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, Belgium
    James Ensor, The Intrigue, 1890, oil on canvas, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, Belgium

    Obliquely referred to with the strange message included on the side of the canvas, Butzer began developing his work within this aesthetic category from the 1990s. A means to transform the past into the future, Science Fiction Expressionism allows Butzer to tackle 20th century aesthetic and political histories head on, as the artist describes:

    '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 
    Citing comics, politics, and pop culture, Butzer’s the strange panoply of recurring cartoonish characters that animate his large-format figurative works are all inhabitants of his unique pictorial universe: NASAHEIM, ‘a non-place where colours are stored for eternity’.ii Translating as ‘home’ in German ‘Heim’ allowed Butzer to conceptualise NASAHEIM as a spatial reality ‘Like the next frontier […] like saying there’s a home where NASA is’.iii

     

    Featured prominently in the left-hand side of the present work, ‘The Wanderer’ is perhaps the most iconic of Butzer’s recurring figures, identifiable by his sharp white high collar and long hair. A cypher for the artist himself, The Wanderer crystallised as a character for Butzer immediately after reading Friedrich Höderlin’s epistolatory novel Hyperion (1797-1799) for the first time. A key figure of German Romanticism, Höderlin’s novel explores the tragedy of solitude and the profound desire to become at one with the cosmos, its plot unfolding in a series of spiralling progressions. Struck with an overwhelming sense of uncanny recognition upon reading it Butzer felt ‘I knew every word, I thought those words were my own.’iv

     

    Mickey Mouse and Medizin:

    'André Butzer believes in the influence of Walt Disney’s figures on our image of human beings […] The world of Mickey Mouse knows no moral, real pain nor real joy.'
    —Max Hetzler
    While the chromatic confidence, dense figuration and gestural treatment of paint in Chips und Pepsi und Medizin (Das Glück) makes its debt to early Expressionism clear, the influence of comic books, cartoons and the early animations of Walt Disney is also profoundly apparent, as the neologism NASAHEIM in its blending of the American space agency and Anaheim, the original home of Disney land directly signposts.

     

    Walt Disney Animation Studio’s, Steamboat Willie, 1928

     

    Believing that these cartoons, their depictions of inter-personal relationships and violence have had a profound effect on shifting attitudes our conception of the human and humanity, Butzer exaggerates recognisably Disney traits such as wide eyes, gloved hands, and over-sized heads with his raw palette of acid yellows, blues, and reds in a sustained critique of commodity aesthetics and mass consumption, as the titles inclusion of branded item ‘Pepsi’ underscores.

     

    In this his works can be read alongside that of Los Angeles artist KAWS, whose iconic greyscale Companion figure subverts the iconography of Mickey Mouse as a way of examining the psychology of contemporary consumer society, confusing categories of high and low culture and demonstrating the ability to turn art into a spectacle for mass consumption.

     

    KAWS, Companion (Passing Through), 2011, sold at Phillips, 13 November 2019 © KAWS
    KAWS, Companion (Passing Through), 2011, sold at Phillips, 13 November 2019 © KAWS

    Just as The Simpsons writers satirised the violence of Tom and Jerry cartoons in their creation of the hyper-violent Itchy and Scratchy cartoon as an ironic meta-commentary on animation, entertainment, and the notion of moral obligation, Butzer’s NASAHEIM does not provide a moral commentary on good versus evil, but creates a world that exists in dialogue with our own and which ‘unites opposing elements of life and death, horror and beauty, hope and despair to make visible that which cannot be represented in the world.’

     

    Collector’s Digest

     

    •    André Butzer has lived and worked in Altadena, California since 2018. After a period of working in monochromatic series, this move inspired a return to the earlier colour and characters seen in Chips und Pepsi und Medizin. A group of these works were shown at Galerie Max Hetzler in Spring 2020.

     

    •    Exhibiting widely since his 2003 debut with Galerie Max Hetzler, Butzer has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Kestnergesellschaft, Hannover; Kunsthistorisches Museum – CAC Contemporary Art Club at Theseustempel, Vienna; and Kunsthalle Nuremberg.

     

    •    His works are in the public collections of the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art among many others

     

    i The New Yorker, review of André Butzer, Metro Pictures, New York, March 2008, online
    ii Galerie Max Hetzler, André Butzer, Paris, March -April 2017, online
    iii André Butzer in interview with Michael Slenske, ‘Expressionism, Now with Added Black’, Vice, 9 November 2017, online
    iv André Butzer, quoted in the press release for Untitled, 2021, Window Gallery, Berlin, 15 June-21 August 2021, online
    v Alexis Valencia, ‘André Butzer 1 Eis Bitte! (1999) at Galerie Max Hetzler, London’, Artefuse, 16 January 2019, online

    • Provenance

      Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
      Private Collection, Italy
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Berlin, Galerie Max Hetzler, Chips und Pepsi und Medizin, 21 March - 3 May 2003, pp. 31-32 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Christian Malycha, Sein und Bild: André Butzer 1994–2014, Bielefeld, 2017, no. 38, pp. 145, 147 (illustrated, p. 146)
      Christian Malycha, Being and Image: André Butzer 1994–2014, Bielefeld, 2018, no. 38, pp. 127, 129 (illustrated, p. 128)

19

Chips und Pepsi und Medizin (Das Glück)

titled 'CHIPS UND PEPSI UND MEDIZIN' on the right side; inscribed 'TODALL, WELTWEIT ALL!' on the left side; signed, titled, inscribed and dated 'Todall, weltweit All! ''Chips und Pepsi und Medizin'' 24.1.2003 A. Butzer '03' on the reverse
oil on canvas
295 x 440 cm (116 1/8 x 173 1/4 in.)
Painted in 2003.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£70,000 - 90,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £403,200

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2021