The Celestial Handbook: Lutz Bacher

Curator: Hilary Greenbaum
date: April 2, 2012
Categories: Illustration
Tags: art, language, space
Lutz Bacher, The Celestial Handbook, framed offset book page, 2011

Lutz Bacher’s series of eighty-five prints entitled The Celestial Handbook, now on view at the Whitney Biennial, is obviously not a graphic design project. But the set of works, which are nothing more than framed pages from a forty-six-year-old, self-published book about astronomy, poignantly address the gap that sometimes occurs between the visual and verbal articulations of an idea—a gap that has both inspired and plagued the field of graphic design.

According to a transcription of the audio guide regarding the project, “In her work, Bacher simply frames and re-presents the pages of Burnham’s book. In doing so she literally spaces them out, making them objects of independent focus. One thing that comes forward as a result is the relationship between the images and Burnham’s captions. Sometimes these are poetic, sometimes they’re minimally factual. Either way, they rarely seem to describe their subjects adequately. In Bacher’s staging of the original book, that failure becomes a point of interest. It suggests that the work’s real subject may be the cosmic chaos that exceeds the reach of language.”

The form of this project is deceptively simple, yet it addresses the complex notions of representation, language, art and space—all through re-purposing the form of a found object. Very impressive.
  • http://myindigolives.wordpress.com/ Ellie K

    Ironically, your description of the exhibit (or Chris Vroom of HuffPo, I wasn’t sure if the image and the text or just the image was syndicated from HuffPo) was much more compassionate, gentle, intellectually friendly and factually correct than the Whitney’s own online statement about Lutz Bacher’s work! 

    AIGA:”framed pages from a forty-six-year-old, self-published book about astronomy, poignantly address the gap that sometimes occurs between the visual and verbal articulations of an idea”versus the Whitney:”a mid-century astronomy handbook. Each page ostensibly describes the unimaginable vastness of space, but the photographs and captions fall far short of the immense task” 

    I like what Lutz Bacher created! It is touching, sweet, and inspiring. It gives visibility to something that was thrown away and would have been lost forever without her care. I don’t feel that it is meant to ridicule the lack of spiritual or conceptual awareness of a 1966-era hobby astronomer. It is rare for an astronomer (hobbyist or otherwise)  to attach prose descriptions to telescopic plate images. This wasn’t a textbook, but a self-published work, as you stated correctly. It brings out the best, not the worst. 

    Who can truly describe the sublime i.e. the unimaginable vastness of space, in words, let alone as image captions?  Poets, but only a very few! I thought it was wonderful that Bacher titled her work “The Celestial Handbook”. And I thank AIGA for your decision to devote an entry to coverage of this specific work. While the Whitney of course has my thanks and appreciation for selecting and funding the exhibition of Bacher’s work, I far prefer the more science-friendly critique I read here. It is respectful to all.

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