I hope you all already know Heidi Bucher and that I am the only one with a shocking lack of awareness of this fascinating artist. I recently discovered her work at the Swiss Institute and was so inspired that I felt compelled to bring what was my travel-only blog back out of hibernation so that I could write about the exhibition and hopefully add the blog’s 23 followers to the list of those who know this artist.
Heidi Bucher, 1926 – 1993, was a Swiss artist who lived and worked in L.A. in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, and then in Switzerland from the mid-70’s until her death. Although she made work throughout her life, her main body of work dates to the 1970’s and 80’s when she was in her mid-40’s and after…hurray for “mature” women artists!
The Swiss Institute, 18 Wooster Street in Soho, is currently showing sculptural works by Bucher as well as documentary publications, photos, and videos, through May 11. I visited the Swiss Institute for the first time last week, with no knowledge of what was on view. This is often the best way to visit a gallery; at best you’ll be pleasantly surprised, at worst you’ll roll your eyes and leave. http://www.swissinstitute.net/
The Swiss Institute is a large, airy building with a surprisingly friendly OPEN sign hanging on its front door–not your typical art gallery (or even non-profit) welcome. I found this totally charming.
The first piece I saw in the front gallery space was a small free-standing sculpture of a building sitting on an antique table in the middle of the room, quietly anchoring the space around it. The building is a small-scale replica of Buchers’ family home, painted in an iridescent gray. This was promising.
I then moved to a shelf displaying publications and documentary photography:
Playful! Smart! Funny!
I liked this artist.
These fantastic foam forms are “Body Shells”; wearable sculptures created by Bucher in collaboration with her then-husband, Carl Bucher, in California in the late 1960’s-early 1970’s. They introduce us to Bucher’s interest in architecture, clothing, and the body and provide an important and amusing starting point for Bucher’s later, more sober explorations of these ideas.
In the mid-1970’s Bucher moved back to Switzerland where she began her main body of work, which consisted primarily of casting architectural forms in fabric and latex. She worked with her family’s home and with other significant buildings, lining walls, floors, doors, and windows with fabric and latex that that she then peeled off, in effect “skinning” the spaces. The pieces are called, in fact, “Raumhaut”, (room skin), and they are amazing.
The first room skin, “Untitled (Herrenzimmer)” (below) confronts you as soon as you enter the main gallery. It consists of three wall skins from her parents’ master bedroom in her family home, suspended from rods some feet apart from each other. The front door of the first section is open, allowing the viewer to move through the piece itself and immediately enter into Bucher’s created space. The pieces are surprisingly dimensional and retain the structured spaces of the recessed doorways that formed them. The frozen ripples and folds in the fabric immediately reference wrinkles in skin and create an interesting juxtaposition with the obviously architectural forms.
Bucher’s skins seem to soak up memories from the surfaces of these intimately-known spaces and in peeling them off she simultaneously concretizes them and sets them free.
In a review of her work by Aofie Rosenmeyer (link below) we see this quote by Bucher: “We paste the rooms and then listen. We observe the surface and coat it. We wrap and unwrap. The lived, the past, becomes entangled in the cloth and remains fixed there. Slowly we loosen the layers of rubber, the skin, and drag yesterday into today.”(1)
Another huge, gorgeous piece is “Grande Albergo Brissago (Eingangsportal)”, which is a cast of a hotel’s ornate entryway.
The piece is more abstract than “Untitled (Herrenzimmer)” and the latex and fabric run thickly across the surface, flowing around architectural details and down onto the floor into graceful pools. It is massive and impressive, feminine and powerful, beautiful and sad.
“Schrank Haus Winterthur-Wüflingen,” hangs on the adjacent wall. This piece retains clear decorative details from the original mold and has a slight iridescent cast, which links it back to the silvery sculpture in the first room.
There are other works in the gallery, including smaller casts of more intimate objects and explorations of the fluidity of fabric, but for brevity (too late!) I’m just touching on my favorites.
And the exhibition did not end there! As much as I loved the physical work, for me the highlight of the exhibition was a beautiful, haunting, but also amusing video of Bucher at work, entitled “Räume sind Hüllen sind Häute” (Rooms are shrouds, are skins) shot by Lukas Strebel in 1981. It is about 30 minutes and is creatively and beautifully shot, with an eerie (and frankly confusing) soundtrack as well as some narration by Bucher.
The film perfectly illustrates the intense physicality needed to create these pieces. There are so many evocative actions that go into creating the work; pulling, stretching, gathering, lifting, peeling, rubbing, draping, that the pieces are almost more important as performances; as bodies interacting in new, intimate ways with what is generally considered a fully known and experienced space.
You can see the film, as well as 7 other wonderful videos of Bucher at work on various projects, including one of the “Body Shells” dancing on a California beach, at the official Heidi Bucher website: http://www.heidibucher.com/
Some of my favorite moments from the film:
Needless to say I was utterly transfixed by Bucher’s work. It is authentic, powerful, poignant, at times playful, and inspiring. I hope you all get a chance to see it in person, or can spend a little time looking through images of her other work or viewing the videos.
Please visit the Swiss Institute website for more information on this exhibition. http://www.swissinstitute.net/
Bucher’s work will also be on view at Alexander Gray Associates, 508 West 26th Street, #215 from April 9 – May 18. http://www.alexandergray.com/exhibitions/
Additional information on Heidi Bucher can be found here:
Review with quote by Bucher:
(1) This statement by Heidi Bucher appeared in a press release for the “Heidi Bucher: Mother of Pearl” exhibition at the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst from November 13, 2004–January 9, 2005. Translation mine.