Lutz Bacher: Snow

Lutz Bacher, Horse/Shadow, 2010–12, plywood, paint, ribbon, horsehair, pedestal with motor, lights, 78 x 36 x 1/4".

HOW DOES a contemporary artist take on the cosmic? Last year, Lutz Bacher dumped hundreds of pounds of smashed coal slag onto the floor of a darkened exhibition hall. She then planted black television sets and shattered mirrors into the piles of soot. There is a single picture of this installation, titled Black Beauty, from 2012, in Snow, the artist’s first major monograph, which covers nearly four decades of her work. The photograph looks as if it has been xeroxed onto the page. It shows a close-up of the shimmering black coal and is conspicuously devoid of the details that account for the intensity of experiencing the work firsthand—the televisions, which represent portals to the outside world, and the mirrors, which reflect cracked images of Bacher’s vast iridescent landscape, as well as the bodies of her viewers as they pass by.

Bacher does not like to give her age—though rumor has it she is nearing seventy. She cultivates anonymity, and the name by which she is known is said to be a pseudonym. Much of Bacher’s work gestures at universal questions—what is it to love someone? to lose someone? to endure alienation?—by drilling down into specific materials. She has rolled hundreds of baseballs across a gallery floor, photographed tropical butterflies, and made life-size cutouts of the characters from The Wizard of Oz. By incorporating emotionally loaded subjects into ephemeral works, Bacher creates meditations on mortality and grief.

Bacher has always been interested in inversions. Many of her works involve dolls, emphatically lifeless objects that illuminate the living. Such is the case with Snow: With its tagboard cover and grainy reproductions, it feels like a college reader. Given the bare-bones quality of both the captions and the pictures, what is not shown begins to loom over each page—this is an art book as an index to another, unseen world. Produced for a recent exhibition that opened at Portikus in Frankfurt and then traveled to the ICA in London and Kunsthalle Zürich, the book includes, among hundreds of works, documentation of the coal-spill installation as well as a picture of Horse/Shadow (above), a plywood horse perched on a pedestal like a ballerina in a music box. As seen in the exhibition at the ICA, the horse reaches nearly six feet high and rotates slowly, casting enormous twirling shadows on the walls. Overhead, Puck’s soliloquy from the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays through hidden speakers, less music than an echo of ambient noise: “If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended.” There is no record of that in the book, of course. But like so much of Bacher’s enigmatic work, it is still somehow suggested, like a mood or a memory passed around.