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  • Christian Hain

Lutz Bacher - Living Up to Anticipation at Lafayette Foundation?

(Paris.) Have you not been waiting all your life for a sentence like this: “Back from backpacking to Paris, I’m backing up my Macbook whilst writing on an exhibition by Lutz Bacher”? No? Well, never mind.

Polyglots of course will object, the correct pronunciation is "Bah-chrchr (think Arab!) -aah". And neither "Lahts" nor "Lotz", but "Loo-ts". Or is it? She – yes, indeed: she, but we will come to this shortly – is American born, raised, living, and might never even have set foot outside the United States as far as concerns her public appearances. The art world’s answer to Thomas Pynchon won't expose her face to the press or reveal the name on her passport, let alone discuss her travel plans. There’s not much known about Lutz Bacher other than being an American artist, female, and presumably of an advanced age by now (unless she’s fooled us all those years, and it's actually a collective). At some point during the 1960s, she thought it a good idea to take a male pseudonym and stuck with it ever since, stubbornly defending the juvenile decision.

I don’t (and certainly don’t want to) know anything about Lutz Bacher’s taste in fashion, but looking back on five decades of bi-coastal success in the American art scene, it seems a solid guess that she won’t face insurmountable obstacles to include the Galeries Lafayette in a Parisian shopping spree (contrary to all rumours, they DO still sell to non-Chinese speakers, even if you have troubles to find them among the sales personnel). And maybe Monsieur Houzé personally took occasion to slip her a gift card during the preparations of her latest show. Until recently, the uber famous department store only entertained a modest exhibition space on their second floor (and I could never tell: Is it a regular gallery selling art or a just-for-fun-and-marketing location with attached bookstore?). But now, perfectly timed as another Parisian supermarket heir, Antoine de Galbert, is closing his foundation, GL’s owner family around Guillaume Houzé decided to expand into the more arty-ly chic neighbourhood of the 4th arrondissement, just around the corner from Centre Pompidou.

The continuously decreasing property prices in Paris - got a million or two to spare? Now’s the time to ponder it in earnest: do you really need another Koons, or would a Parisian pied-à-terre at about half the price of five years ago not be more practical? maybe go for both – played a rather negligible role in the decision to acquire a historic mansion, then commission a renowned foreign architect to remodel it into a space for exhibitions with artist studios in the backyard.

Lutz Bacher’s solo is the first show to take place after the building's completion, and we can only speculate about the motivation behind Lafayette’s choice, just as we cannot stop doing about Bacher’s to go for that name. -> Jo Seb Bach, “Bach” meaning a “rivulet” in German? Why a Germanic name actually, and why even top it with the most hun-ny sounding "Lutz"? (It’s fun to speculate about linguistic misunderstandings, and by the way, the international diversity in names – Matthew-Matthieu-Matthias-Matteo-... only exists thanks to non-understanding, to evil segregation instead of egalitarianism).

If you are a feminist eager to make a point about society and art "being dominated by white European males" (old-school Nazis even!), is it a good idea to become one yourself, a sheep in wolf hiding? But then, you’re a thing of the past yourself, right? Kind of looking bach(/k)-wards, and she certainly counted on lots of backers for her (artistic) campaigns. Only one thing seems sure: There’s no connection whatsoever to a “lutz” in skating (figure, not -boarding). In case you wonder: Yes, we do have "lutz of time" to focus on this irrelevant detail, because the actual exhibition is... well, sort of limited.

Rem Koolhas (not “Cool-Has”, but “Cole-Haahs”, literally: “cabbage hare”) gutted the building as if using a giant apple corer, and created a hollow space on three levels with open galleries surrounding the central void. He might have been influenced by the aesthetics of car parks and cargo lifts here. The result is a (very) open art space with (very) few space for the art, more Musée du Quai Branly than Palais de Tokyo.

Having paid the entry fee - still modest for the inaugural show -, and visited the cafeteria and bookstore, visitors enter the staircase on the edge of the exhibition space, to watch the same film projected on every wall of the first two storeys. Upon my arrival, the camera was zooming in on a deserted beach while a fierce northern gale kept whistling to the microphone. The sea, the sand, the colours, it's all screaming "Atlantic", Netherlands, Belgium, North of France maybe - or even the other side of the pond, Eastern Seaboard. Still much rather Europe. Please don’t get annoyed with my speculations here, there is exactly zero information available on the show, neither in situ nor online: Film and architecture is all we get.

And what do we see exactly? Tetrapods, debris, ruins. Graffiti on grey concrete, executed, yet unsigned, by the artist’s hand, or a youthful delinquent. A drawing of a mermaid carries the caption “Je suis une sirène”, "I am a mermaid". There’s also the "Shell" label, or only the drawing of one, and an octopus (not Hokusai) in white chalk, or bird poo. The closing scene of Planet of the Apes - the classic, and don’t watch the criminally stupid remakes - comes to mind, but that’s not the carcass of Lady Liberty. A child is seen playing in the sand before the screens go black. This happens quite often now, maybe the cameraman needed a break, or his (or her - was it Bacher him- no herself, man this is getting confusing) next-gen camera decided to close the lenses every so often by itself. The drone operator orchestrating the seagull’s view of other scenes might be a dry alcoholic, or suffering from epilepsy (Parkinson?), judging from the so very shaky images.

Further contemplating the setting, you wonder: Could it be the remains of a bunker? Scenes are cut, images amputated abruptly, more and more you associate war relicts - is this Normandy, Dunkirk and else? People in silhouettes appear before the background of what might be defence installations, not to stop the floods, but liberators. More human behinds emerge from afar, memories like footsteps in the quicksand of history (whoa, that’s poetical). Zooming in on yet another derelict fortress.

As mentioned above, the same continues on two levels, and you ask yourself, whether entrance fees have really been reduced for this being the inaugural show or... well, Lutz Bacher’s work would not loose anything if presented on a single 40” flatscreen in the back of some group show. You could throw confetti around there, too. Because that’s what they did at Lafayette Foundation, in showrooms and staircase. Glittering rainbow confetti on the floor potentially pointing to a performance on opening night.

The top level is different. Now, the centre hole is covered by a platform (is it a lift indeed?), and cut off from the surrounding gallery. Mirror coatings on glass panels replace the projection as visitors take the centre stage themselves: Your own reflection makes the film. The floor is completely covered in thick layers of confetti. One of the interns explains, how to Bacher the paper snippets symbolize her "body fluids" (yuck!). Frozen in time? There was no performance, not for the opening, nor later. The staff is compelled to clean up – i.e. freshly cover - the floor every day when starting their shift. Hidden from view, a visitor’s foot wrote the letters "B.S." in the glitter. It wasn’t me. (Really not!) Somebody else added a drawing of what the artist lacks, but, according to Freud, envies most. That was me. (Yes, I did. And it felt like being twelve all over again, awesome, dude!). It’s almost a Zen garden, and every line erased so very soon.

With this new space, Galeries Lafayette added another great address to the database of location scouts for Paris Fashion Week. And maybe Lutz Bacher takes her earnings from the show (indirect of course, but it’s never too late to open new markets abroad) to Le Bon Marché, the slightly nobler, and definitely more expensive, Parisian department store on the left bank of the Seine.

Lutz Bacher, 10 March-30 April, Lafayette Anticipations

World of Arts Magazine – Contemporary Art Criticism



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