A dachshund in a pink wig stares resolutely out from under a lamp. Off to the left, a disembodied hand, it’s manicured fingers loosely grasping the lamp’s cord, floats off into the jagged, navy background. "Poor soul," you might think with a laugh, and you'd be right. Poor Souls is less an art show than it is a laughter-fueled trip into the mischievous mind of the legendary German artist Werner Büttner. Opening at Marlborough Chelsea, the show is Büttner’s first in New York in 30 years, marking his return with a formidable collection of paintings and never-before-seen collages.
Though these works are new, they retain the dark wit and imbedded critique audiences have come to expect from the 62-year-old artist-cum-art professor. Back in 1970s Cologne, Büttner and his fellow members of the Junge Wilde movement pushed against the minimalistic, conceptual pull of their moment with a style of exuberance, intensity, and a joie de vivre sense of irony.
This is the same over-the-top style still seen in the artist’s work today, such as his piece But on the seventh day a bit of peace and quiet (top). It testifies to another characteristic of Büttner’s style: the works are as much about the iconoclastic imagery as they are about the words that accompany them. The artist’s titles are often long, usually contradictory, and seemingly extraneous to many of the images they describe. What, for example, does The Confetti of Duration have to do with a brick building front and a suspended string of sausages? “If the lessons are obliquely proffered and veer toward the gnomic,” says the show’s press release, “they are all the more powerful for it.”
Poor Souls opens tomorrow, October 27th, at Marlborough Chelsea. Find out more on the show on the gallery’s website.