4 March 2020, London: This month, Sotheby’s S|2 gallery presents an exhibition of works by radical Post-War German artists, Michael Buthe and Sigmar Polke. Born in 1944 and 1941 respectively, the artists each grew up against the backdrop of a Post-War society in flux. By the 1970s, they had embraced a liberal, transcendental way of living, which was in turn reflected in the experimental and otherworldly quality of their works. Each brimming with a heady sense of psychedelia, buthe/polke: friends will feature 20 mixed-media artworks, which together shine a light on the nonconformist lifestyles that connected the artists to one another, and to the network of avantgarde young creatives they lived and worked alongside, including Gerhard Richter, Martin Kippenberger and Rosemarie Trockel.
From the 1970s onwards, Buthe and Polke each abandoned the constraints of their respective realities, embarking on exploratory journeys to Africa and the Middle East. Polke spent time photographing his travels, infusing the people, bears and dancing Afghan monkeys he caught on camera with a surreal combination of word and collage (see Untitled (Cardplayers), 1975). He vacillated between artistic techniques, and took psychedelic drugs which pushed his work into new realms of tonal, material and chemical experimentation (see Untitled, 1994).
Likewise, in 1970, Buthe absconded from Cologne to Morocco in the hope of attaining a new level of artistic freedom. In 1972, he spent five months in the beguiling seaside city of Essaouria, its high-colour buildings and cornucopian souks saturating his art, which moved from quasi-Minimalism to Bohemian exuberance. In Buthe’s later works, including Landschaft mit Schnecken (Landscape with Snails) and Untitled (wall object), found objects including branches, pine cones and snail shells burst beyond the limits of the canvas, reinterpreting and rearticulating the surrounding space. Elsewhere, Buthe painted faces over photographs of stones and, in a cult-like endeavour, combined them with poems in homage to a medieval Majorcan mystic (see Steine No. 63).
In 2016, a candid interview with Buthe’s friend, collector Ingvild Goetz, recalled:
“Michael [Buthe] was living right in the main souq of Marrakesh, the liveliest part of town. His house had a beautiful courtyard with a fountain, and cats climbing on the trees all around. It was simply idyllic. Most of all I remember the hot evenings we spent outdoors, and the strange noises in the background. And I remember how Michael once concocted a drink with poppy seed in it that was so strong we could hardly get up from our chairs. It just was a totally different world – and that was Michael’s world…he knew all the magicians, conjurors, soothsayers and witches personally – all the most interesting people”.
This quote was taken from michael buthe: constellations - a new artist monograph produced for the exhibition, in collaboration with Ted Bonin of Alexander and Bonin gallery, and Hannelore Kunert, a lifelong friend of the artist.
The exhibition will run concurrently with a survey of Buthe’s work at Alexander and Bonin, New York. Michael Buthe: Selected Works 1968-1994, will be open from March 3 – April 18 2020.
About S|2: S|2 is a secondary gallery space in London at 31 St. George Street. The gallery space operates separately from the auctions and the programme is laid out independently of the auction seasons. Since 2017, the gallery’s exhibition programme is organised by Darren Leak and Bianca Chu, with support by gallery manager Liberty Paterson. The aim of the space is to mount research-based, critical exhibitions focusing on the edges of art history and to shine a light on artists that may be under recognised by the market.