New York

Lutz Bacher, The Book of Sand, 2010–12, twenty-five tons of sand, dimensions variable.

Lutz Bacher, The Book of Sand, 2010–12, twenty-five tons of sand, dimensions variable.

Lutz Bacher

Alex Zachary Peter Currie

Lutz Bacher, The Book of Sand, 2010–12, twenty-five tons of sand, dimensions variable.

This March, the Upper East Side belonged to Lutz Bacher. Standout work by the Berkeley, California–based neo-Conceptualist appeared in three exhibitions uptown: In the Whitney Biennial, throughout, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s survey “Spies in the House of Art: Photography, Film, and Video,” and in a solo show at Alex Zachary Peter Currie. The pieces presented were mostly new, and struck a different, more subdued chord than much of Bacher’s previous output, neither directly confronting questions of gender, violence, or power, nor foregrounding a punk élan (as in her well-known series “Jokes,” 1987–88, which couples movie stars and other notables with unsavory one-liners). Instead, Bacher exhibited parts of her “cosmological investigation,” a constellation-like project composed of individual elements that together suggest a single mythic figure—the artist herself.

The centerpiece of Bacher’s solo exhibition, The Book of Sand, 2010–12, consisted of twenty-five tons of the powdery material dumped in the gallery, blanketing the ground floor and spreading out into the courtyard. This unexpected beach, paired with the sounds of waves crashing and a tinkling piano from a nearby video, seemed a funny counterpart to Walter De Maria’s long-term installation in SoHo, The New York Earth Room, 1977. But unlike De Maria’s work, Bacher’s is meant to be walked upon and not just viewed, and it was particularly beautiful—a word rarely used in reference to her art—as the natural light shifted in the gallery from day to night.

The show’s lack of a press release, at Bacher’s request, was altogether unsurprising. (A recipe for butterscotch pudding was a waggish stand-in for information during her 2008 show at San Francisco’s Ratio 3.) “You know everything you need to know,” says Zachary when asked how to approach her work in Interviews with Alex Zachary, 2012, a more than two-hour-long video that belongs to one of Bacher’s most important projects: a series of recorded conversations held between herself and her dealers, curators, and friends about her life and art. The series of videos—a spine running through her radically uncohesive oeuvre—enacts one of her key interests: the dispersion of seemingly private details in public space. Typically, the camera sits on a desk and just rolls, catching more non sequiturs than lucid critiques. And though on video the various ums, ers, stutters, coughs, sniffs, and laughs provide a sound track like TV static, in print they are thoroughly jarring—see the seventeen transcribed interviews in Do You Love Me?, a 440-page book recently published by Primary Information. Available for perusal in the gallery’s office, the tome monumentalizes Bacher’s persistent documentation of her social circle, which paradoxically emphasizes transparency while embracing manipulation, as she controls the scene and constantly pushes her subject into the role of interviewee, never interviewer.

On May 23, Bacher will dump thousands of baseballs on the fourth floor of the Whitney (she performed this piece on a smaller scale at London’s Cabinet Gallery last year). Like stars and sand, Bacher’s baseballs ultimately resist our efforts to find meaning or to order the arbitrary. In her interview with Zachary, she presses him for his interpretation: It’s about “infinitely small and infinitely large,” he says. Thus, just as constellations are essentially a linguistic codification of nature, our understanding of Bacher’s work arrives via a social contract among her friends and colleagues. Pierre Bourdieu once described such a cast as a “circle of belief:” Bacher’s ardent supporters, who have a nearly religious faith in her vision, are also the people necessary to build her reputation. She just makes them work harder than other artists do.

—­Lauren O’Neill-Butler