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Lute Bateau



Lutz Bacher, 1943–2019


Lutz Bacher has passed away after a heart attack on May 14, 2019, in New York City. Over the course of five decades, Bacher created an expansive and radical body of work that consistently redefined the operations of the found object in art, from her early pairings of readymade text and image, to her sublime installations of recent years. Throughout her career, Bacher withheld her given name, as well as biographical basics or the release of her portrait—an elusiveness that extended to her sprawling body of work and its resistance to categorization—yet a strong spirit of collaboration pervades the oeuvre she left behind. 


Originally based in Berkeley, California, Bacher’s earliest output in the 1970s was largely in video and photography, integrating chance, the found object, and mass media. In this time, she created Men At War (1975): twenty photographs (edited to eight, decades later) capturing overlapping details of tanned young soldiers at the beach, which Bacher developed from a found negative. Barely perceptible is the swastika tattoo of one of the boys. Bacher’s work frequently exposed a dark current running through mass culture, isolating the intersection of fetish and tragedy in episodes like the Kennedy assassination. The Lee Harvey Oswald Interview (1976), installed last year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a suite of eight, increasingly frenetic and repetitive collages of Lee Harvey Oswald’s portrait and typewriter text. The text, barely legible and laden with repetition and non sequiturs, discusses the conspiracy theory that a double of the famous assassin actually shot JFK. Sex with Strangers (1986) reproduces images and texts from an erotic novel, modifying the writing style to that of a sociological study to highlight implicit violence in hardcore porn. 


As she worked anonymously, Bacher produced work that performed confession and disclosure—both that of others, and teasing her own. Relaying the intimate through the detachment of found objects, Bacher approached even the most traumatic of subject matter with caustic and perverse humor. My Penis (1992) repeats a phrase uttered at a rape trial; whereas Huge Uterus (1989) is centered around a video of a surgery on Bacher herself.


In the 1990s, Bacher began to exhibit with, among others, the gallerist Pat Hearn in New York. There, she presented her Playboys (1991–1993), drawings and silkscreens replicating the pinup illustrations of old men’s magazines on a large scale, granted a new, dangerous agency by the shift. Hearn, who died in 2000, would be memorialized in Bacher’s Closed Circuit (1997–2000), an animation of video stills documenting one year of the gallerist at her desk from a fixed camera overheard.


Exhibiting more widely in the 2000s and 2010s, Bacher’s subject matter continued to expand as her work exploded into three dimensions. Starting with the exhibition Spill (Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 2008), Bacher’s installations achieved resonant, haunting synchronicity between disparate found elements. In 2012, she covered the ground floor and courtyard of Alex Zachary Peter Currie Gallery with sand. In 2013, at Portikus, Frankfurt, sparkling black silicate, along with scattered monitors of the full moon and its reflection, were installed on a provisional top floor (another iteration was later on view at Institute of The Contemporary Arts London, accompanied by Chess, Bacher’s scrambled, glitchy checkerboard occupied by a cast of lifesize found characters). Two years after relocating her practice to New York, Bacher’s play on Warhol and Blinky Palermo in 2015’s For the People of New York City filled Greene Naftali’s ground floor with roaring white noise and a new version of Empire, chaotically refracted across large panels of Plexiglas.


During the last decade of her life, Bacher exhibited around the world, relentlessly productive, presenting transportive installations that ambiguously captured myth and metaphor. Her works became mutable, evolving between presentations, and the boundaries between them fluid, such that they were all subject to her enigmatic choreography. Her last presentation of new work was a slide presentation of phrases excerpted from spy novels, cable news, and overheard conversations, presented by Galerie Buchholz in Cologne and titled Open the Kimono.

A fearless artist and a giving friend, Lutz Bacher will be dearly missed.

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