Buddha Mind

How far can blue go?  Transcending borders of space and time, it is the never-ending story of color in culture. Bettina WitteVeen is a Mannheim-born artist educated at Wellesley College who is a devout Buddhist. Her epic humanitarian project Heart of Darkness has led her to hunt for haunting blues in such “extraterritorial” sites as a meadow of blue flowers on the site of a former Russian gulag, a Native American reservation, the servers in the depths of a Google storage facility and in the present case, Lake Inle in Myanmar and a pagoda in Yangon at dawn and at sunset. The blue of this Buddha was never really there, though. The print is actually the “color reversal” of the original gold image, as is the serene blue lake at dawn. She contrasts the symbolic solar gold of the rational, “day Mind” with the blue “Night Mind,” lunar and female:

In emphasizing dualism by the use of the colors this series intends to guide the viewer to the realization that the perceived dualistic nature of our world is illusory. The Buddhist belief that the structure of the universe is inherently unstable and unpredictable coincides with quantum physics and finds its expression in the highly individualistic combinable nature of these photographs. Were we to understand that all phenomena are ultimately empty and non-existent (Pragaparamita) much suffering could be avoided and we would be liberated from the curse of Samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth.


“I am a life that wishes to live among other lives that also want to be alive.”

Bettina WitteVeen

Bettina WitteVeen was born in 1958 in Germany. She began exhibiting her work in 1992 to International acclaim. Her triptych titled, The Buddha Mind is on view in the seminal art show Blue at the Nassau county Museum of Art, Roslyn Harbor, New York, USA, through November 1, 2020. This exhibition includes, among other artists, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, Yves Klein, David Hockney, Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Yoshiharu and Deborah Turbeville.

Her career comprises three long-term projects, each demanding a decade or more and on-location photography and filming. WitteVeen’s first project, Sacred Sister, a meditation on spirituality, myth and womanhood was part of the artists inresidence program at the Watermill Center in Watermill, New York, USA. Her collaboration with Robert Wilson was exhibited at Art Basel/Miami Beach in 2003 and documented in a monograph published by Verve Editions. Twelve black and white portraits from her Hybrid Identities were included in the highly popular exhibition, Body Art: Masks of Identity at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in 1999-2000.

Part I of her The ErlKing trilogy a broad, philosophical re-interpretation of Goethe’s poem and was exhibited at the MiArt Foundation at Art Basel/Miami Beach in 2005 and in 2006 by the White Space Gallery in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Another version of The ErlKing was included in the Berliner Liste Contemporary Art Fair in 2010. Part II took the form of the film titled, The ErlKing/Altar for Shiva (Philip Reinhold Productions) and was screened at Munich Modern, Munich, Germany in 2011, at the Cutlog International Artist Film Festival in Paris, France and nominated for Prix/Art Cutlog Creative Video Award in 2013.

Part III – Götterfunken feuertrunken the Erlking: Whiteout combining film, photography and sculptural elements was installed in two buildings of the Forbidden City, Wünsdorf, near Berlin Germany in 2018. WitteVeen was the first artist to have been given access to this historically significant site, which she transformed into a compelling and timely exhibition, which garnered significant International attention.

Bettina WitteVeen graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies from Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, USA in 1980 and studied Law at the Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. Her interest in history and in the philosophy of the law, as well as her commitment to pacifism and justice, are the conceptual basis of her five-part worldwide installation project with the summary title The Heart of Darkness.

Sponsored by the French government, WitteVeen installed Part I, Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori at L’Été de Photo, Lectoure, France in 2005. WitteVeen exhibited Part II titled, Brüder, Zur Sonne, Zur Freiheit and the beat goes on, as part of New York Museum Mile at the Goethe Institut, New York, USA in 2006. She was the first artist to exhibit more than 100 photographs Der Tod Und Das Mädchen/Death and the Maiden (Part III) in the space of a former WWII air raid bunker at Königstadt-Brauerei Exhibitionspace, Berlin, Germany in 2008. WitteVeen showed a large-scale, multi-media installation and Part IV, titled, When We Were Soldiers once and young at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn, USA in 2015. She is the only artist to have access to the abandoned hospital building otherwise closed to the public. On two floors she transformed the site into an epic meditation on war and healing. The exhibition was picked up by the Associated Press and received International attention.

She was invited by one of the most important national sites in Germany, the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church located in Berlin, to contribute to the nation’s commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the end of WWI in 2018. There the artist installed Part V of The Heart of Darkness project, II.II.18 Dämmerung transforming the church’s chapel into a place of reflection and commemoration by placing a life-size cruciform photographic sculpture, a bed of live flowers with video and a sound installation to an emotionally and visually arresting tableau.

Bettina WitteVeen was substantially represented with 5 Wounds in the groundbreaking Christa – The Dignity Project as part of the highly regarded art program at St. John the Divine in New York in 2016-2017.

She was a guest speaker at Place Memory and Experience at the Municipal Arts Society Summit for New York City in 2015, and a guest lecturer at the Bologna Lab of the Humboldt University in Berlin in 2016. Her works are in several private and public art collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Charles A. Riley, PhD
New York, USA
June 2020

Contact Info:

Melissa Corrales
Bettina WitteVeen Studios
511 Avenues of the Americas
Box H66
New York, NY 10011
Tel: (917) 603-9292

Europe :
Henriette Isenhardt
Gneiststr. 12
D - 10437 Berlin
Tel: +49 (0) 30 23471054‬