ART REVIEWS : ‘Love Me?’ Shows Off Self-Obsession


Lutz Bacher’s epic, 11 1/2-hour videotape “Do You Love Me?” at TRI Gallery is a tour de force of untrammeled narcissism--and plenty of other things, besides. Here, Bacher films several dozen of her friends and colleagues as they answer her questions about herself: “What did you think of me when you first met me?” “What about me bugs you?” “What do you think of how I dress?” “What do you think my personal life is like?”

Rosalind Krauss once defined the video medium in terms of the aesthetics of narcissism. By that, she had in mind the way in which early video was filled with images of the artist doing things both mundane and extraordinary. Bacher fulfills Krauss’ definition without once appearing on screen and situates her work at the center of the art world’s current infatuation with self-obsession.

Yet we never get to know Bacher very well. This is because she is only peripherally the subject of “Do You Love Me?” In fact, the people she questions are the video’s multiple subjects, held captive by her controlling (if mellifluous) voice and her relentless (if concealed) gaze.


Like laboratory rats, these subjects react very differently to the stresses Bacher places them under. One looks like a deer caught in the headlights, clearly uncomfortable at being compelled to talk about a woman he doesn’t know very well. Another is properly pensive, biting her lip and twirling her hair in nervous concentration. A third is a frustrated performer, only too eager to crack jokes, make faces and generally act up.

Here, the familiar psychoanalytic scene is spied through a fun- house mirror. Bacher plays the analyst--unseen, prepared to scrutinize and judge. She doesn’t so much converse with her subjects as encourage them to speak, disrupting their monologues only with a series of predetermined questions. Of course, this is not precisely what Freud had in mind. What these analysands are compelled to talk about is their analyst, not themselves. One rather daring artist begins to touch upon his own work only to have Bacher interrupt with “So what else about me?”

One can read this exercise as a sly critique of psychoanalytic theory, or indeed, of the whole practice of criticism, wherein the critic pretends to let the artist speak but is really concerned with massaging his or her own delicate ego. This kind of reverse logic and cultivated trickery makes Bacher’s work dangerous to think or talk about. In some ways, it is quite like being forced into a cold shower. One of her subjects characterized Bacher as irritating and more than a little intense. The same can be said for her increasingly complex body of work.

* TRI Gallery, 6365 Yucca St., (213) 469-6686, through April 16. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


Looking Strange: One of the most familiar of surrealist strategies is to make the ordinary appear extraordinary. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s new photographs at Angles Gallery look surreal, but they’re not. Their function is to make the strange look even stranger.

Sugimoto is interested in the staged tableau, and the way the photograph redoubles its naturalized fakery. To that end, he has created a series of black-and-white photographs of displays at natural history and wax museums that reflect upon the perverse charm of their particular brand of institutionalized fantasy.


Here is Cro-Magnon man busy cleaning a pile of massive bones, or our “earliest human relatives” taking a Saturday evening stroll, so absorbed in one another that they’re oblivious to the volcano exploding behind them. If you’re more interested in celebrities, here are members of the Royal Family, Academy Award-winning movie stars and a galaxy of mass murderers.

Sugimoto is a classicist who disdains fancy framing or plays of light. The wax and plastic surrogates that populate these tourist sites, posed in their successive, pseudo-realist settings, certainly don’t need that kind of commentary. What Sugimoto delights in anyway are the details: a prehistoric scene with a wallpaper-like backdrop of marching pheasants; the acne-scarred jaw of the “Brides in the Bath Murderer.” Each one functions like Roland Barthes’ “punctum”--that which arrests us within a given image, triggering both memory and desire. Here, the “punctum” reminds us that memory and desire are themselves largely photographic fictions.

* Angles Gallery, 2230 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-5019, through April 15. Closed Sundays and Mondays.