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Lutz Bacher’s Nonsense Is More Sensical Than It Seems

A look behind the artist’s teasing false promises at K21, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf

Is there a phrase more vulnerable than ‘I love you’? One that, by virtue of its declarative honesty, sits exposed in a room of baying responses that are varied, volatile and, on occasion, cruel? Depending on disposition, you may return with shock, suspicion or something altogether stoic in form. You may even respond in kind. But if your wits are sharp, you will second-guess the gusto. ‘Why am I loved?’ ‘Why do you love?’ ‘What’s love got to do with it?’

That final question, the title of Lutz Bacher’s exhibition at K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, has a lush ambiguity: the undisclosed ‘it’ and the unexplained invocation of love, not to mention the reason for its apparent irrelevance. Its opacity alone is reason enough for it to serve as the title for Bacher’s show, one characterized by the artist’s now-characteristic brand of non-sequitur, non-compliance and that which looks a lot like nonsense.

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Lutz Bacher, ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’, 2018, installation view, K21, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen. Courtesy: the artist and Greene Naftali, New York and Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne/New York; photograph: Achim Kukulies

Bacher’s is a nonsense more sensical than it seems. In each of the show’s three rooms, two monitors play a series of what initially profess to be evocative or motivational jottings. The first, Open the Kimono (2018), loops hand-written post-its and reminders: ‘we all have to be somebody’; ‘you must make every jump as if it is your last’; ‘new day USA’. On the second, Black or White (2018), runs typed text: ‘If each moment is our entire life’. We have harmony, then, or something close. But, as is often the case with Bacher, and the nebulous realities that she sets in form, this harmony cracks: ‘adventures in baby-sitting’; ‘my big fat pet make over’; ‘a flock of erect dicks’. Submerged within The Sea. Spies Like Us (2013), an unseen and infrequently intelligible sound-piece comprising clips from spy thrillers, these works function like heavy-drinkers in your favourite dive: glasses pile up, logic comes down and we’re left to deal with the drunks.

Bacher is at her most glorious when absent: when she just doesn’t step back from her messy cyphers but evacuates the building altogether, leaving you alone to weave connecting threads that likely won’t hold. This masterly act of desertion is compromised, at K21, by Untitled (2017): an enlarged, repeating transcription of Donald Trump’s signature that sullies each wall of the exhibition. With this, as with the dull sneer of Cyclops (2017), a ring of 26 domical surveillance mirrors installed in the atrium of the museum, Bacher shows her hand and, in doing so, rouses suspicions that the deck was stacked from the start. As a political agenda flickers into view, so too does our trust in the integrity of the disarray lose its colour.

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Lutz Bacher, ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’, 2018, installation view, K21, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen. Courtesy: the artist and Greene Naftali, New York and Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne/New York; photograph: Achim Kukulies

It is apt that Vegas Pants (2018), a troupe of Sin City-branded pyjama bottoms stuffed with straw and air, populate the central room of an exhibition that is ostensibly about promises and their propensity for emptiness. So too that the third room, accessed through a bejewelled curtain, is an ersatz version of the first and that, at hourly intervals, Bach’s euphoric Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (c.1703-7) is unleashed upon the museum’s piazza. That Bacher’s recording takes the ascendant title Music in the Castle of Heaven (2018) makes our inevitable return to silence a little emptier.

And when the music stops? Having mingled with Bacher’s many false promises, passed through her bathetic halls, what do we have left? We have that which was built in its midst, from pieces that weren’t meant to fit together in the first place. If hers is the statement, ‘I love you’, ours is the frenetic salvo of anxieties that ring out upon hearing it. Or, perhaps not. What’s love got to do with it, anyway?

Lutz Bacher, 'What's Love Got To Do With It?' runs at K21, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westhalten, Düsseldorf, until 6 January 2018.

Main image: Lutz Bacher, ‘What's Love Got to Do With It’, 2018, installation view, K21, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein Westfalen. Courtesy: the artist and Greene Naftali, New York and Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne/New York; photograph: Achim Kukulies 

Harry Thorne is associate editor of frieze and a contributing editor of The White Review. He is based in Berlin, Germany.

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