Irvine, California

Lutz Bacher, Moskva (Moscow), 2019, 96 ink-jet prints, each 61 3⁄4 × 44".

Lutz Bacher, Moskva (Moscow), 2019, 96 ink-jet prints, each 61 3⁄4 × 44".

Lutz Bacher

University Art Galleries, UC Irvine

Enigmatic, hilarious, disorienting, and almost mythic, the four decades’ worth of work by the artist pseudonymously known as Lutz Bacher is unparalleled in its raw wit. Bacher had been working with fellow artist (and University of California, Irvine, professor) Monica Majoli to plan this solo exhibition until this past May, when she suddenly died of a heart attack, leaving Majoli to complete the installation. It’s hard to believe it was Bacher’s last.

Four works were spread over multiple spaces on the University of California’s Irvine campus. Moskva (Moscow), 2019, in many ways felt the most classically and pointedly Bacher: Nearly one hundred prints are composed from photocopied lines sliced from various novels featuring Russian spies; arrows and other marks further interrupt the page. The breathy cloak-and-dagger language tangles easily with the bitter slapstick of our current political dramas involving shady Russians and a shadier president.

The exhibition’s title piece, Blue Wave, 2019, is a simple video of a giant blue tarp hanging off the side of a building under construction, loosely waving in the wind. The two-channel installation was projected into adjacent corners of the gallery. At one point in the footage, a worker looks like he’s trying to either rein in the tarp or set it loose. This ordinary, deadpan scene shivers with breathtaking beauty. A blue wave can be a wash of water, a journalist’s shorthand for significant Democratic Party election gains, or, as it was here, just a billowing sheet. The way the projection wrapped around the walls made me want to crawl into its folds, as if by wrapping myself in its quotidian magic, symbolic potency, and phenomenological simplicity I might make this desperate world a little less so.

An expansive photograph at the building’s entrance, Rocket, 2018, displayed a rather sizable spaceship disassembled into four pieces on a runway; and rounding out the exhibition, the numerous short videos that make up Modules, 2018–19, were shown in the back room of the gallery and on screens throughout the art department’s computer lab. The forty minutes of Modules that I caught involved a jangle of shots Bacher had taken with a phone camera, documenting the installations of her own exhibitions. As the textures of the four works of the exhibition rubbed together, I summoned a semblance of their meaning: Here the artist was collaging her existence into a beautiful composition, a morass of politics and the everyday, delivered with a wink.

In vinyl letters introducing the two main spaces, a headline appeared above the exhibition title: you are here and you have me and we are daring and desperate and dangerous operatives saving the world and planning the destruction of evil. Beneath it, Majoli had written: lutz gave me gifts. they took varied forms, but the common factor was that they arrived unexpectedly and were often impervious to logic or evident understanding. over time her gifts fused meaningfully to the thirty-year history of our friendship. this exhibition was another, one she gave spontaneously yet resolutely.

I felt like Bacher was giving us a gift, too, as she leaned in to whisper her headline and conducted subtle alchemy through her work, voicing her understanding of the world as both totally ridiculous and so very serious. Underneath the layers of paper and text was the secret that she and I and you are all in on this mission to save the world, together.