Heidi Bucher (b. 1926, Winterthur, Switzerland; d. 1993, Brunnen, Switzerland) was a Swiss artist best remembered for her innovative use of latex and exploration of the physical boundaries between the body and its surroundings. Serving simultaneously as means of historical preservation and metaphorical molting, Bucher’s Hauträume—or “roomskins”—act as indexes of the complicated relationship humans have to their bodies and pasts. Working across the United States, Switzerland, and the Canary Islands, Bucher forged a practice anchored in familial, cultural, and architectural histories and deeply entwined with contemporary concerns around the boundaries between public and private space, and femininity and the body. Though Bucher’s many bodies of work—from her early drawings and wearable sculptures to her later latex-encased objects and Hauträume—each reflect distinct artistic interests and origins, they all trace back to the artist’s mantra, which uniquely summarizes her career-long engagement with bodies and rooms: Räume sind Hüllen, sind Häute (Spaces are shells, are skins).
Beginning in the 1970s, Bucher embalmed clothing in a mixture of latex and mother of pearl, preserving the objects as artifacts of their time and creating a surface that appeared skin-like in both color and texture. Bucher primarily used women’s clothing, such as nightdresses and pantyhose, as a critical response to the rigid gender restrictions she had experienced during her childhood and adolescence. By the end of the decade, Bucher began applying her signature latex medium to the surfaces of domestic objects and spaces, aligning women’s clothing with these designated “feminine” spaces. Allowing the latex mixture to harden, then peeling it off, Bucher produced translucent skins that held elements of paint, rust, dirt, and the minute details and markings of the architecture. During the years that followed, Bucher produced several major bodies of work based on the domestic spaces of her past—her ancestral house in Winterthur, the study in her parents’ home, and her studio in Zurich. Each space she inhabited was rendered translucent and ghostly, like a visual memory that, due to the fragile nature of the latex material, would warp and discolor over time. Displayed suspended mid-air, the series of latex Hauträume (Roomskins) are simultaneously monumental and fragile, mimicking the very process by which they are created; the removal of the latex from the architectural space required a great deal of both physical strength and delicate dexterity.
Later in her career, Bucher expanded her practice to engage with public spaces, such as Swiss hotels, government offices, and mental health institutions. Today, her work exists in many surviving drawings, sculptures, and fragments, as well as in the photographs and videos which were often integral to the documentation and even creation of each body of latex works.
Bucher attended the School for Applied Arts in Zurich from 1942 to 1946, specializing in Fashion Design. Solo exhibitions of her work have been organized at The Approach, London, United Kingdom (2019); Lehmann Maupin, New York (2019); the Parasol Unit, London (2018); the Swiss Institute of Contemporary Art, New York (2014); Centre Culturel Suisse, Paris (2013); Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich (2004); Kunstmuseum Thurgau, CH (1993); Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA (1972); Musée d’Art Contemporain, Montréal, Canada (1971); and Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York (1971) among others. Recent group exhibitions featuring her work include Unconscious Landscape. Works from the Ursula Hauser Collection, Hauser and Wirth (Somerset), Somerset, United Kingdom (2019); GIGANTISME — ART & INDUSTRIE, Fonds régional d’art contemporain du Nord-Pas de Calais, Dunkerque, France (2019); Entropy, I write your name, Le Magasin, Grenoble, France (2019); The Psyche as Political Arena, Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Baden-Baden, Germany (2019); In the Shadow of Forward Motion, Zabludowicz Collection, London, United Kingdom (2019); An Intricate Weave, Nottingham Contemporary, UK (2018); The Everywhere Studio, Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, USA (2017); Women House, la Monnaie de Paris, Paris, France and National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C. (2017); Viva Arte Viva, 57th Venice Biennale, Italy (2017); No Place Like Home, Israel Museum, Jerusalem (2017); Room, Warwick Arts Centre, Warwick, UK (2017); and Artists and Architecture, Variable Dimensions, Pavillon de l’Arsenal, Paris, France (2015). Bucher’s work is featured in numerous international public and private collections, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; Kadist Art Foundation, Paris, France and San Francisco, CA; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich, Switzerland; Musée Jenisch Vevey, Switzerland; and Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Winterthur, Switzerland.