Blauer Schlumpf (Blue Smurf), 2009
Andre Butzer’s show at Metro Pictures, “Nicht furchten!” (Don’t be scared!) lasts until May 1, and is a menagerie of color, popular culture and pathos. These huge canvases are slathered in paint, an effect that the viewer can actually smell upon arrival. Globs of neon green, explosions of red, and faint recollections of images we know and love – the Smurfs, Winnie the Pooh, Aladdin – are all intermingled in a post postmodernism show robust with a joie de vivre. These signs of culture are abstract, yet lucid, and the heavy colors don’t obfuscate – they invite.
A certain self-consciousness is apparent in the naming of these pieces, from “Blue Smurf” to “Entombment of Winnie the Pooh.” All of these figures are suggestively abstract, and the names of the pieces reaffirm your suspicions of what you thought they resembled. It’s like the formal act of creation calls upon our knowledge of culture, and our love of color, to attract us. Upon inspection we can see that there is a method to the abstraction: the artist carefully etched brushstrokes into the larger globs. We pause, back up, wonder, remember our childhood with these figures. Mr. Butzer said that this is where painting is now, that his use of color and subjects is not arbitrary.
The three paintings from which the show gets its name strike a more somber note. On the large canvases of colorful and exciting facture are oddly shaped figures that come to overpower the entire painting. The first presents a star shaped, flesh colored piece that sits in the middle of the painting, and yet strikes a harmonic balance in its dominance. Its amorphism is curious, but no more so than the black spidery figure in the second piece. It seems to be growing increasingly powerful, as its color blackens and its legs spread over the Matissean color field, but I think back to the title and am reassured. Finally, in the last piece, the black figure has gained complete control; only upon inspection is it possible to see a trace of green or blue. Otherwise, the black is the painting, hanging in thick smudges and smears. If this is the end, then it makes sense that we shouldn’t fear it – the bright colors of the other avant garde art made it, well, not quite so bad.