S.M.A.K. Ghent

S.M.A.K. Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst | Jan Hoetplein 1
B-9000 Ghent

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artist / participant


press release

S.M.A.K. is pleased to present a retrospective exhibition of work by Michael Buthe (1944–94). This German artist participated in ground-breaking exhibitions such as When Attitudes Became Form (1969) and Documenta V (1972), shortly before becoming increasingly fascinated by non-European cultures. The exhibition is anchored in his only two remaining installations and combines a selection of key works from Buthe's intense career from the late 1960s to the beginning of the 1990s.

Taking his lead from German "Informel" and American Minimal Art, Buthe's textile objects from the 1960s and early 1970s give a tactile response to the crisis in the medium of painting at that time. Emphasizing the support—e.g. canvas and frame—his objects are dyed, torn, shredded and sewn back together. Through the artist's use of softness, organic elements and a process-based approach, the Post-Minimalist notion of the fragmentary, unresolved nature of things is also made manifest in his sensuous drawings and collages from that period.

From 1971 on, Buthe lived in Morocco, the Middle East and Iran for longer periods of time. Accordingly, his work increasingly mirrors non-European influences. The period culminates in the Musée du Echnathon (1976): in the spirit of a lifelike "Institutional Critique," for several months Buthe transformed his Cologne studio into a living environment, hosting exhibitions and performances by his artist friends, and being a place for queer and other countercultural communities of the Rhineland of those days. In Buthe's holistic approach, social life provided artistic material in the same way as everyday commodities can.

Buthe's nomadic notion of sculpture—like life, the artwork should be constantly transforming—did not allow for standstill. Some of his works were developed over extended periods and presented in different settings. Although Buthe created a vast number of environments, only two installations have remained complete: Taufkapelle mit Papa und Mama (1984) was first shown at the former Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent; Die heilige Nacht der Jungfräulichkeit (1992) was created for Jan Hoet's Documenta IX. The presence of these two environments makes Buthe's spatial thinking tangible.

This exhibition is the second solo show of Michael Buthe's work in Ghent. Whereas his 1984 show at the former Museum of Contemporary Art represented a particular moment in time, this second show also focuses on Buthe's early work and the late work in which he gradually returned to his roots. But even though his oeuvre is influenced by numerous artistic movements from Abstract Expressionism through Dada to Minimalism and Performance, it ultimately refuses categorization.

Michael Buthe | Retrospective is a cooperation between Kunstmuseum Luzern, S.M.A.K., Ghent, and Haus der Kunst, Munich. Initiative and concept: Heinz Stahlhut, Kunstmuseum Luzern. With the kind support of Kunststiftung NRW.

Curators in S.M.A.K.: Dirk Pauwels and Martin Germann.