The Lee Harvey Oswald Interview
“This is a picture of Lee Harvey Oswald,” reads a sheet from Lutz Bacher’s The Lee Harvey Oswald Interview (1976). “Isn’t it?”
Bacher, a German woman artist who worked under a pseudonym to protect her identity, was invited to participate in a book of interviews with artists in San Francisco. She opted instead for a periphrastic direction, crafting a conspiratorial treatise about the instability of cultural memory: the mock interview she submitted centered around Lee Harvey Oswald, the supposed assassin of President John F. Kennedy. Later assembled into a work of art, it took the form of a somewhat slapdash 18-page interview interspersed with photostatic prints of Oswald, a medium then popular among law enforcement, and later, multimedia performances and digital screen-capture video. Bacher delivers both sides of the interview.
Oswald, indeed, served as the perfect mirror for Bacher’s own sense of displaced truth-value and identity. Arguments still persist about whether certain photographs of Oswald were edited, and whether he was Kennedy’s lone assassin or even the killer at all. (Indeed, Oswald himself insisted that two photographs of him holding guns were faked.) One persistent conspiracy has it that, following Oswald’s “death,” a Russian look-alike was buried in his stead.
“The Lee Harvey Oswald Interview” at Galerie Buchholz gathers every iteration of Bacher’s project to accompany the opening of The Betty Center, Bacher’s archive and ephemera spanning back to the 1970s. Something shifts in the project with every version—from photographs to digital video and performance. Is the booklet Bacher made in 1976 the same one as that splayed across these gallery walls, even if they are the photostatic originals? Where is Bacher in all of this? Where is Oswald?
“This conversation is going nowhere,” reads one non-question in Bacher’s booklet. Bacher-cum-Oswald responds: “I could have a thousand pictures and I would still be going nowhere. It should be that more pictures would tell you more but what happens is they tell you less and less.” Beside the typewritten lines are a panoply of grainy images of Oswald, indeed looking quite different in each one, dissolving almost into unrecognizability. “I mean,” the answerer continues, “here’s one, and here’s another one and here’s another one and who the hell is this guy? Are these all the same person?” —Lisa Yin Zhang
Lutz Bacher, The Lee Harvey Oswald Interview (Performance, San Francisco, 18 July 1984). Digital video, sound, 12 feet 32 inches. Installation view: Galerie Buchholz, New York 2021.