Critics’ Picks

Lutz Bacher, The Long March (detail), 2017, framed postcards, paint, dimensions variable.

New York

Lutz Bacher

80WSE Gallery, NYU Steinhardt School
80 Washington Square East
June 21 - September 8

NYU Barney Building: Einstein Auditorium
34 Stuyvesant St
June 21 - September 8

The found collection of one hundred postcard-size photographs of Mao Zedong precisely framed and installed in Lutz Bacher’s The Long March (all works cited, 2017), on view at 80WSE, oscillates between portrayals of the revolutionary turned despot as an all-powerful leader and as an everyman who enjoys Ping-Pong, swimming, and a good smoke. Highlighting the parallels between advertising and propaganda, one portrait “captures” Mao smoking a cigarette in a wicker chair, a mountainous shoreline stretching out behind him. Hung on walls painted shades of gray that match the chairman’s dour suits, the soft-focus color photographs contribute to a cult of personality that feels quaint compared to the invasive and omnipresent nature of celebrity and politics today.

Open the Kimono, a slideshow composed of notes scribbled by Bacher from radio, television, and passing conversations, is a companion piece that will be published in a forthcoming book. Presented in the lecture hall of NYU’s Barney Building, the digital “lessons,” as Bacher calls them, whir by so quickly that they are difficult to register in full. Instead, we are immersed in a barrage of snippets and phrases plucked from pharmaceutical ads, motivational infomercials, procedural dramas, and the endless patter of the twenty-four-hour news cycle.

Both works consider how propaganda functions today, evoking the oversaturated media culture that propped up, and even created, our narcissistic president, whose proclivity for military strongmen is not incidental. The lessons amplify the numbing and cacophonous effect of so much noise and information. The Long March emphasizes the contrast between Mao’s highly orchestrated approach to his own image and the brand-dominant culture that provides a ready-made template for today’s authoritarian leaders—shit men in shit suits, to paraphrase one of Bacher’s notes.