WOW HUH
Chain Link Fences
a review of
Andrea Büttner at The Walker Art Center

by Patrick Gantert


Minneapolis is under construction. The city is getting a new stadium for the Vikings that looks like Noah’s Ark spliced together with Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. All of the construction is framed in by chain link fencing, which is preferable to NYC’s plywood gold standard because you can see the site. It’s all along my commute so I’ve found myself thinking more about grids than I had ever planned. It’s a dialogue I thought I’d left in graduate school. Probably for aesthetic reasons I’ve become interested in the breaks and inconsistencies in the grid, the places where the chain link dips in and makes amorphous shapes in the structure. I think of Andrea Büttner’s show at The Walker Art Center as one of those dips.

Büttner’s show is set up in a gallery at The Walker that has typically been reserved for old bro minimalism; Donald Judd, Fred Sandback, Ellsworth Kelly, etc. The space itself is beautiful. It opens up on one side to a giant bank of windows overlooking the Walker’s lawn so that, at certain times of the day, the space is flooded with sunlight or the gray winter glow so common in the midwest. The show is made up of several framed photo collages, a couple lithographs, a rock on which moss is being cultivated, a 3D film, a bench across the back wall supported by milk crates and some blue fabric covered walls that you may initially associate with International Klein Blue. But you’d be wrong.

The show is destabilizing. Even in the relatively small gallery there are areas of unused space that feel like vast canyons between works. This move is certainly intentional. Something I missed on my first visit to the show was Büttner’s 3D film. It’s all the way in the back of the gallery on a tiny TV and the glasses are incredibly far away from it, right by the little handout for the show at the front entrance. Again a massive amount of separation that is simultaneously curatorial error and artistic intent. Her film is a conceptual key to the rest of the show.

Most of the ‘video’ is really just still images that, when given the 3D treatment, have a kind of futuristic Ken Burns effect happening. It’s kind of shitty but in a good way. Most of the images have an air of found photography. They depict the elderly aimlessly wandering in environments without context, primarily arid fields dotted with rocks. Often they are on a hill. All of the shots produce anxiety by virtue of the fact that the subjects are so old, moments away from tipping over, shattering a hip, getting pneumonia and dying. Maybe that’s just me but they are precarious in a way that feels less about the images themselves and more about the show as a whole, insisting that we focus our attention on what images produce instead of what they may mean.

Here, images produce worlds, vast tapestries that when read together defy their singular function. In ‘Kant’s Pictures’ Büttner shows 11 framed photo collages, loosely influenced by the fossilized aesthetic mastermind, the bulk of which read like an ad hoc Google Image search with seemingly random pictures that tie together through texture, shape or directionality. The others feature large singular images of ancient artworks and maybe unsurprisingly, space. Supposedly these are meant to illustrate Kant’s work, add images where there are none. But this read is tertiary and really serves as a way to reiterate the scintillating notion gently introduced earlier in three flat dimensions that images here are untethered from their meaning, instead functioning as a malleable material.

Büttner uses that malleability to explore a spectrum of technique and force the viewer into a space between extremes, quite old and pretty new. Analog photography is shoehorned into 3D for seemingly no other reason than to open up space and reflect the distance already physically implemented. There are  beautiful etchings here and deftly executed reverse glass paintings. To say that these are underused and ostensibly underappreciated techniques in the current art market would be putting it lightly. The show isn’t explicitly a survey but it also isn’t a cohesive grouping. Again, we’re in between.

The theme of distance takes other iterations here when you start to break down her materials. The aforementioned fabric on the walls is actually that of German Laborers uniforms. When shifted into the space of an art center, the viewer is immediately asked to consider this in the context of art history, hence the natural assumption of International Klein Blue. A generous nod to one of her European forebears. This almost subliminal relationship then forces two disparate communities (blue collar labor and high art) into the same field of vision, dotted like so many rocks.




via the Walker Art Center

via the Walker Art Center

via the Walker Art Center

via the Walker Art Center