In Brief: Spellbound by Michael Buthe at Galerie Judin, Berlin

An exhibition exploring the enigmatic artist’s ‘portable studios’

If in Berlin: run, don’t walk, to Galerie Judin to see this exquisite show of diaries and sketchbooks by the enigmatic artist Michael Buthe. A four-time Documenta participant, who expired young in 1994, Buthe remains an enigma today: a classic artist’s artist, with a roving imagination seeking limit-experiences, he was obsessed with non-Western mythologies, ritual iconographies, spiritualism, Christian imagery, voodoo and all things kitsch – working glitter, sequins, fabric, gold foil and other ‘cheap’ materials into his canvases, cloth pieces and sprawling installations. In the 1970s, Buthe ventured to Afghanistan, the Middle East, Nigeria and Uzbekistan, living from 1986 partly in Morocco.

‘Michael Buthe: Die Tagebücher und Buchobjekte 1963–1994’, 2019, installation view, Galerie Judin, Berlin. Courtesy: Galerie Judin, Berlin, and Michael Buthe Estates

The diaries and sketchbooks he made – from the encyclopaedic to the pocket-sized – are relics of the extraordinary ebbs and flows, and hallucinogenic swirls, of his travels: containing collages, paintings, coins, product wrappers, stamps, threads, fabric, photographs and magazine pages. These ‘portable studios’ entertain, as well as confound, in their versatility of expression and their raw, detonating energy: in one, from 1973, a monkey’s face is pasted on the marbleized book surface, together with aluminium foil and a blood-coloured wedge of paper. The poet Arthur Rimbaud wrote of a ‘systematic disorganization of the senses’, and here we have documents of a torturous journey towards a similar disorganization.

‘Michael Buthe: Die Tagebücher und Buchobjekte 1963–1994’, 2019, installation view, Galerie Judin, Berlin. Courtesy: Galerie Judin, Berlin, and Michael Buthe Estates

Michael Buthe – Die Tagebücher und Buchobjekte 1963–1994 is on view at Galerie Judin, Berlin, Germany, until 13 July.

Main image: ‘Michael Buthe: Die Tagebücher und Buchobjekte 1963–1994’, 2019, installation view, Galerie Judin, Berlin. Courtesy: Galerie Judin, Berlin, and Michael Buthe Estates

Pablo Larios is senior editor of frieze. He lives in Berlin, Germany.

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