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Urs Lüthi at the Swiss Institute
This was the first New York exhibition for Swiss conceptualist Urs Lüthi. A pioneer of body and performance art, Lüthi rarely shows in this country. He became well known in Europe in the late 1960s and early '70s as part of the "Transformer" movement, which set out to explore and explode traditional notions of gender and identity.
On view in this show, titled "Run for Your Life: Placebos and Surrogates," was one of Lüthi's photo self-portraits from 1971, showing an androgynous, svelte and lovely young thing with a tear in his/her eye. In a way, the artist continues to address issues of the body, but what a shock it was to move to the main room of the gallery where a series of constantly running videos shows Lüthi as he looks now -- overweight and bald, wearing thick glasses, dressed in black shorts and shirt and exercising on a treadmill.
The striking installation included on the far wall a large photo of a skull. Along the adjacent blue painted wall was a series of four video monitors playing identical videos of the artist working out. At the far end of the line of monitors was the artist's large photo "self-portrait" as a gorgeous female supermodel. Elsewhere, a skid was piled high with Frisbees bearing humorous slogans, such as "Smile until you actually feel happy" or "Act for one hour like your opposite sex."
The theme of the show centered on retaining youth and evading death. It conveyed the feeling of a relentless and wacky determination to regain youth that is made even more poignant by knowing that Lüthi, 54, recently averted a life-threatening illness.
Urs Lüthi, "Run for Your Life," Sept. 7-Oct. 31, at the Swiss Institute, 495 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10012.