Lutz Bacher, Conceptual Artist Who Hid Much About Herself, Dies at 75

Lutz Bacher, Conceptual Artist Who Hid Much About Herself, Dies at 75

In 2009, the artist had a retrospective, titled “My Secret Life” and organized by Lia Gangitano, at PS1 Contemporary Art Center (now MoMA PS1). A two-venue solo show at New York University in 2018 found her working again in a barbed topical mode. At the school’s 80WSE gallery, a display, without commentary, of 100 mass-produced Chinese postcard images of Mao Zedong, constituted a study in how a monstrous leader could, by achieving the status of folk-hero, become unassailably powerful.

A simultaneous exhibition, called “Open the Kimono” and installed in an N.Y.U. lecture hall, was a slide-show of phrases Ms. Bacher had jotted down from television ads, radio talk shows and overheard conversations.

Some of the phrases (“I believe in love”) were bland-inane; others (“Face-lift in minutes at home”) were pop-weird; still others (“We are in a post-truth environment”) were direct references to current politics. Together, they added up to the equivalent of handwritten tweets, a random harvest of outtakes from the surreality show that is American culture in the present.

In 2013, Ms. Bacher moved from Berkeley to New York City, where she is represented by Greene Naftali Gallery. She appeared in three Whitney Biennials (1991, 2000 and 2012), and in the last decade of her career showed in museums internationally, including the Kunstverein Munich; Portikus in Frankfurt; Secession in Vienna; the Kunsthalle Zurich; and the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.

In 2008, she produced a book version of “Open the Kimono.” An earlier book appeared at the time of her 2009 PS1 retrospective. Titled “Smoke (Gets in Your Eyes),” the book references past work (the Vietnam photographs, the “Do You Love Me?” interviews), but is a non-chronological, non-thematic jumble, interspersed with porn magazine clips, advertisements, and personal notes. It documents an art that avoids a signature style and an artist who refused a categorical identity.

In an interview, Ms. Bacher once referred to her work as “one big ruin.” It was a ruin she built through a lifetime of self-invention through art.

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