Referencing Giotto’s star-filled blue fresco adorning the vault of the Scrove- gni Chapel in Padua, Italy, Büttner’s installation transforms the gallery’s arched ceiling into a painted sky mural populated by life-size potatoes. The exhibition also presents a selection of new sculptures and works on paper.
Büttner has recurrently employed the motif of the potato, taking an interest in its inelegant, plump form- al quality. In Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters (1885), one of the most well-known art historical appearances of the potato, the peasants are rendered in ‘the colour of a really dusty potato’, according to the painter, thus forming a metonymic correlation between the potato and the threadbare manual labourers at the dinner table. Büttner’s work relates these formal and historical associations to a religious context, trans- ferring what is normally tied to the earthly and the grounded to an elevated position recalling religious frescoes that gesture to the celestial.
A grouping of glass-mounted postcards inquire into the formal expression of religious spaces. Among the structures depicted in the postcards are the stained glass windows designed by John Piper in Coventry Cathedral and the altar fresco mural by Georg Meistermann in the Maria Regina Martyrum in Berlin, works in which formal abstraction and symbolism converge. The postcards also gesture to the relation of devo- tional spaces to other social functions, including mourning, atoning, and healing. The Maria Regina Martyr- um, a Roman Catholic church, is located near the former Plötzensee Prison, which was an execution site under the Nazi regime. The church was constructed in the 1960s to honour those who died resisting the regime and functions as a religious space as well as a tribute and memorial. The postcards come out of Büttner’s recent research revolving around the Karmel Heilig Blut Dachau toward forthcoming video pro- jects.
The exhibition also presents new sculptural works modelled after designed spaces. These maquette-like works explore the resonances between art and interior design in secular architectural spaces and fresco painting in chapels and other religious spaces. One sculpture recreates the dining room of Nelson A. Rock- efeller’s New York City apartment, which featured a commissioned site-specific painted work by the Swiss- American painter Fritz Glarner. Completed in 1963, Glarner’s ‘Rockerfeller Dining Room’ was sold as a piece of art in 1987 and is today held in the collection of Museum Haus Konstruktiv. Rather than recreate the appearance of Glarner’s painted work, Büttner’s model replaces the interior surfaces with mono- chrome gouache panels, rendering the structural constituents of the space into abstract formal elements.
A group of four works on paper in this show feature frame-like forms that are themselves circumscribed by the metal frame. The frame-like forms recall Derrida’s notion of the ‘supplement’, defined as an entity that is seemingly a secondary addition from the outside, but which in fact supplies what is missing within the thing which it ‘supplements’. These forms bring to mind the glazing bars of stained glass windows— which John Piper referred to as ‘splendid discipline’—that serve a structurally necessary function but also as lines delineating form. The works also enter into dialogue with the complex roles attributed to frames in Western art history. For instance, in the medieval period the frame of an altarpiece did not always ap- pear as an enclosure but often imparted the architectural setting of the painted picture and helped to establish the depth of simulated space. Moreover, as art historian Wolfgang Kemp noted in The Rhetoric of the Frame: Essays on the Boundaries of the Artwork, frames in this period were often more costly and elaborate than the art they contained and thus key in conveying the preciousness of the altarpiece. Ques- tioning how content is distinguished from the frame, these works extend Büttner’s ongoing examination of structures and codes within social and cultural systems.