Word came this afternoon that gallerist Hermann Bachofner died on Monday, May 30. I worked with Hermann Bachofner a few times over the years at the Ruth Bachofner Gallery, curating two shows there more than a decade ago. He brought to America his native Swiss love of precision that translated well to the path he chose. He and his wife Ruth ran their space for more than a quarter century, maintaining a rigorous program favoring an aesthetic of precision, simplicity and serious visual pleasure.
When we were installing my show Abject Edge in the gallery in the late 90s, Hermann was not content with a television broadcasting an artwork by Carl Pope to be on the floor. He went on a mission to the store and bought a corner shelf to elevate the big screen a foot off the ground. It looked fantastic and spoke to his keen sense of what looked good as well as what worked. And I learned something. Hermann told me he had never had a television in the gallery ever, had never shown a video piece. It made me understand, deeply, that people who devote their lives to exhibiting certain types of art understand how things should look and this devotion manifests in not settling, in buying a shelf, in re-hanging an artwork a quarter inch lower or higher to get it just right.
Hermann was an engineer early in life and he was ever the curiosity-seeking puzzle solver. When announcement postcards for the show started being returned in droves, I suspected an antiquated mailing list. But Hermann went over the pile of returns and deduced that some of the post office meters were actually reading the gallery's address on the card instead of the address on the mailing label. He started methodically covering the gallery address on the card with blank white address labels. When I mentioned that there were thousands of postcards possible coming back, he dismissed my concerns. He explained that the postal machines were likely all calibrated just differently enough that the postcards we were getting were all we would be getting. He re-sent the hundred or so cards and a few days later at the gallery he held a card up and playfully told me, "I was wrong, one more came to us that should have gone somewhere else. We're fortunate I am not working on missile guidance systems." That really sums him up as best I can - devoted to problem-solving, calmly jumping on a project as it emerged as a priority, and making a self-deprecating joke about the great results he produced not being perfect.
The calm that enveloped him was contagious and he was a reassuring presence, relaxed and methodical in innumerable tense situations and circumstances. Every hanging of an art show has a few disasters awaiting, but the show always went on at the Ruth Bachofner Gallery, and usually in delightful tranquility because Hermann Bachofner, a great man, was always there to help and delighted in doing so, no matter how minute the detail or dull the chore seemed.