curated by Diego Sileo and Douglas Fogle
PAC is proud to present Luisa Lambri’s first large-scale solo exhibition in Italy, a project designed and developed specifically for the Milanese pavilion.
Lambri’s photographic work is characterised by her commitment to a vast range of subjects that revolve around the human condition and its relationship with space, such as the politics of representation, architecture, the history of abstract photography, modernism, feminism, identity and memory. The relationship between her photographs and the space in which they are exhibited is an integral part of Lambri’s work. Every new space that hosts one of Lambri’s installations presents unique qualities with which the artist interacts, making every one of her project’s site-specific.
The title of Lambri’s exhibition at PAC pays homage to the eminent art critic Carla Lonzi who, before devoting herself exclusively to feminist politics, published a series of interviews with fourteen artists from the 1960s avant-garde under the title “Autoritratto” (Self-Portrait) (1969). Lonzi’s discussions give the reader a first-person glimpse into the private lives of these artists and the ways in which they articulated how they saw themselves in the context of the art world and the world at large. Lambri similarly constructs personal and intimate readings of her subjects and in doing so encourages a dialogue between the viewer, the artwork and the space in which they interact. Her specific and meticulous investigation of space can be read as a form of self-exploration, or a self-portrait, in a manner similar to that of Lonzi’s book.
The project for PAC will focus on the relationship between Lambri’s works and the architecture of Ignazio Gardella. The photographs on display will become a true extension of the exhibition space, making the architecture and the subjective experience of the visitor an integral part of the artist’s work. The large selection of works on view in this exhibition were made between 1999 and 2017 and highlight Lambri’s tendency to work in series. Some of these works will be exhibited in Italy for the very first time. In these photographs Lambri enters into intimate dialogues with works by artists such as Donald Judd, Robert Irwin, Lygia Clark and Lucio Fontana, as well as architects Álvaro Siza, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, Luis Barragán, Rudolph Schindler, Paulo Mendes da Rocha and Giuseppe Terragni, among others.
The installation of Lambri’s series Untitled (Sheats-Goldstein House) (2007) in the parterre of PAC also involves a dialogue with another important Italian architect, Lina Bo Bardi, who designed the then-new São Paulo Museum of Modern Art (MASP) in 1957. The ten photographs selected for the parterre are displayed on glass and concrete easels created by Bo Bardi for the Brazilian museum and reproduced here in collaboration with the Instituto Bardi in São Paulo.
Born in Como, Lombardy, in 1969, Luisa Lambri currently lives in Milan. Her work has been exhibited at the Rome Quadriennale (2020 and 2005), the Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art (2018), the Chicago Architecture Biennial (2017), the Liverpool Biennial of Contemporary Art (2010) and the Venice Biennale (Architecture 2010 and 2004; Art 2003 and 1999). Her work has been featured in solo exhibitions at the Met Breuer in New York (2017), the Isabella Stewart-Gardner Museum in Boston (2012), the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles (2010), the Baltimore Museum of Art (2007), the Menil Collection in Houston (2004) and Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge (2000). Her work has also been included in numerous group exhibitions at institutions such as the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (2019 and 2006), Tate Modern in London (2018), and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2009), among others. Lambri’s works are also included in several institutional collections including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
The exhibition is co-curated by Diego Sileo and Douglas Fogle, and will be accompanied by a bilingual catalog that includes images of the works on exhibition, installation views and new critical essays.
Luisa Lambri’s art revolves around the human condition and its relationship with space, touching on areas such as the politics of representation, architecture, the history of abstract photography, modernism, feminism, identity and memory. The title of the exhibition is a tribute to Carla Lonzi’s 1969 volume Autoritratto (Self-portrait), a collection of interviews with avant-garde artists that revealed their private sides in the context of the art world and the world at large. In the same way, Lambri constructs personal and intimate readings of the subjects of her photographs and encourages a dialogue between the observer, the work of art and the space. Light, time and movement play an important role in her work, where slight differences reflect the artist’s movement within the space. Lambri uses architecture to create her images, rather than images to document architecture, revealing marginal details of modernist architecture or iconic minimalist sculptures. At PAC, her works relate to the unique qualities of the building designed by Ignazio Gardella, for which the exhibition was specifically developed.
UNTITLED (AMBIENTE SPAZIALE), 2012; UNTITLED (SCHINDLER HOUSE), 2007
For this exhibition, conceived directly in relation to the architecture of Ignazio Gardella, together with the masterpieces of modernist architecture, Luisa Lambri’s gaze turned to the work of artists who had directed her interest towards the phenomenal aspects of place and inspired her thoughts about space: Larry Bell and Robert Irwin of the Light and Space Movement, Donald Judd, Lygia Clark, and Lucio Fontana.
In 2012, for an exhibition dedicated to the reconstruction of six of Lucio Fontana’s Spatial Environments at Gagosian Gallery in New York, she photographed the Spatial Environment made for documenta 4 in Kassel in 1968, a completely white room with a labyrinthine path that led to a wall with a panel of white plaster marked by a large vertical “cut”. The photographs – subtle variations of the lower portion of the cut made by shooting from slightly different viewpoints – dematerialize the environment and negate the work in a gesture of appropriation and, at the same time, recreate the profound sense of a “different” dimension.
In the first room, the images of Fontana’s cut find a visual and ideal counterpoint in the photograph of the Schindler House, the house/studio in West Hollywood designed by the architect Rudolph Schindler in 1922, a perfect example of space architecture. The photograph is an ethereal portrait of the architect’s work and evokes the idea of threshold and flow between interior and exterior proper the building, without revealing its most iconic aspects.
These images have also been placed in dialogue with a photograph at the end of the exhibition from the series Untitled (Strathmore Apartments), 2002, where the horizontal motif of the Venetian blinds crossed by light becomes a filter that expands the space beyond the wall.
UNTITLED (100 UNTITLED WORKS IN MILL ALUMINUM, 1982–86), 2012; UNTITLED (BICHO INVERTEBRADO), 2013
The symmetry of the photographs of Lucio Fontana’s cut is also found in the series of photographs exploring Donald Judd’s 100 Untitled Works in Mill Aluminum (1982–86) at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas.
Luisa Lambri has completely escaped the three-dimensionality of the aluminium box in favour of two-dimensional abstraction where the photographic shot captures the subtle variations of light and colour generated by reflections on the satin-finish surface. The subjective perception of the installation, made manifest in the photographic sequence, animates each image with its own emotional and poetic charge, matching the seriality of Judd’s minimalist practice.
This aesthetic and conceptual dialogue with the work of other artists is also evident in the photograph of Lygia Clark’s Bicho Invertebrado, a work that requires a close visual and spatial examination on the part of the observer. Lambri has said that although her work is not explicitly feminist, she is in any case highly sensitive to the theme of feminism. Indeed, she has paid particular attention to the work of female artists and has photographed, for example, the interior of some of Lygia Clark’s Bichos and sculptures by Charlotte Posenenske and Barbara Hepworth.
Within the symmetrical arrangement of the photographs of Judd’s work in the PAC room, the detail of Lygia Clark’s sculpture enacts a shift that transforms the visitor’s overall view of the space.
UNTITLED (CENTRO GALEGO DE ARTE CONTEMPORANEA), 2008
Luisa Lambri has been photographing empty interiors, private residencies and famous buildings by great architects since 1996, always avoiding familiar and overall views and deliberately focusing instead on secondary or marginal details through a subjective perception of space.
In the series of photographs of the architect Alvaro Siza’s Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea in Santiago de Compostela (1988–93) – taken during her residency at the Fundación RAC in Pontevedra in 2008 – the process of deconstructing space led Lambri to concentrate on just one component of the building.
The corner that has been photographed is formed by the meeting of two walls, one of which is lower, suggesting an opening onto another room to the right. The photographs, taken at different times of day, present the transient qualities of light and soften the rigid geometry of the corner. At the margins of the critical discourse on architecture, often defined by its functional openings, door and window, the corner becomes empty space, silence, immobility, an intimate meditation, a place in which to take refuge in a microcosm generated by the meeting of planes. Precisely for this reason, the corners of the rooms at PAC have been intentionally left empty, stimulating in the observer a visual and perceptive dialogue between photography and real space. The photographs activate the empty space, making it emerge as a component of the exhibition.
UNTITLED (BARRAGAN HOUSE), 2005
As Luisa Lambri has often stated, the photographs reflect her experience of architecture and of a space: her work is not so much about buildings as it is about the way in which she encounters interior spaces; an encounter that takes place during the time she spends “inhabiting” and observing architecture. The artist creates a growing and personal relationship of intimacy with the space, especially in the interiors of private homes, such as the house/studio of Luis Barragán, built in Mexico City in 1948.
Lambri recreates that intimacy in this more private room of PAC, where the succession of photographs directs the gaze along the increasingly luminous intensity of the image and leads the visitor inside the space, to the corner and a smaller image of a window open to the outside. Photographs and space are inseparable and to be seen as a whole.
The exhibition presents five photographs from this series, each depicting a square window divided by four dark solids, which, open in various combinations and to different degrees, allow the light to flood the image with different possibilities and intensities, thus alluding to the passage of time.
UNTITLED (BARCELONA PAVILION), 2000
The Barcelona Pavilion is one of the architect Mies van der Rohe’s most iconic works, built for the Barcelona International Exhibition of 1929, and rebuilt between 1983 and 1986. Here, for the first time, Mies van der Rohe introduced the principles of open plan and flowing spaces, creating an open architecture characterized by the dynamism and rhythm of the articulation of the walls, as well as the dialogue between solids and voids, between density and reflections.
Luisa Lambri has stated that historical buildings help us to experience space from both a historical and an intellectual perspective, both intuitively and emotionally. Indeed, she only photographs spaces for which she feels a personal affinity. She perceives the space she moves in and aligns herself with slight variations. Her photographic practice functions at the intersection of the architectural and the phenomenological: subjectivity takes precedence over objectivity and the architectural fragment is elevated above the building as a whole.
This photographic series diagonally carves out the meeting of lines, surfaces, openings and closures, transparencies and reflections put in play by the mobile glass walls placed in front of the precious stone slabs, which are the fundamental aspect of Mies’ building. Here as well, Lambri’s photographs are in dialogue with the space designed by Ignazio Gardella, and in particular with the glass window that opens onto the garden.
UNTITLED (STRATHMORE APARTMENTS), 2002
In a series of photographs of the Strathmore Apartments built in Los Angeles by Richard Neutra in 1937 – taken while an artist-in-residence at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in 2002 – Lambri focused her gaze on a detail of the window, creating her own poetic truth of the place portrayed. The horizontal motif of the slats of the blinds becomes an adaptable filter for regulating openness to the world and the spread of light. The photographed architecture, but also the physical wall of PAC, thus becomes a porous membrane, almost a living entity that breathes. The arrangement of the works in the room creates a relationship between images and physical space, suggesting a spatial and temporal rhythm that guides the experience of the visitor.
The photographic series reveals the variation of sunlight over time and depending on how far the shutters were open: in some images, the foliage outside is visible; in others, the architectural element divides the image in two, creating a painterly play of symmetries and horizontal and vertical axes; in still others, light floods the space and erases all detail. The world fades slowly into a soft geometric abstraction.
UNTITLED (SHEATS-GOLDSTEIN HOUSE), 2007
Luisa Lambri’s creative process is clear in this large selection of photographs of the Sheats-Goldstein House, which was built in the hills of Los Angeles by John Lautner in 1963.
Lambri focused on the skylights and the sensitivity with which the architect used them to give spatial continuity to the interior and exterior. She observed and captured how spaces flow from the inside to the outside, where nature can collide with architecture.
The photographs frame a world that is constantly changing before our eyes: some images show tangles of branches that provide an organic refuge for the house, others create soft atmospheric shadows, still others acquire a painterly quality or dematerialise natural elements in sunlight, such that they seem to float in an illuminated and illegible space, with a visual rendering reminiscent of some of the cyanotypes made by Anna Atkins in the 1840’s, or Alfred Stieglitz’s Equivalents, however indebted to the work of Larry Bell and Robert Irwin.
The photographs – mounted on self-supporting glass sheets that were originally designed by Lina Bo Bardi for the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Brazil make visible what is not normally visible: the back of a work, complete with its hidden history – perpetuate the inside/outside dialogue, depicting and looking at the nature of the garden beyond the large windows of PAC. On one hand, the alternating and close-up positioning of the outwards-facing photographs forces the visitor to walk among the works, establishing a relationship of personal participation; on the other hand, the possibility of seeing the photographs from the garden reverses the inside/outside relationship and heightens the perception of the fluctuation of the images in the space.
UNTITLED (GROPIUS HOUSE, #10), 2005
In 2005, Luisa Lambri shot a series of photographs at the Gropius House, the private residence of Walter Gropius, built with the collaboration of Marcel Breuer in Lincoln, Massachusetts in 1938, when he began teaching architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. The house integrates the dictates of Bauhaus’ modernist architecture with the New England building tradition and the use of innovative materials.
The small image of a vase of flowers silhouetted on a glass wall inside the building communicates a sense of immediacy and intimacy that the house still transmits today. It is the sole black and white photograph that receives the colour and light of PAC’s architecture.
UNTITLED (FARNSWORTH HOUSE), 2016; UNTITLED (S.R. CROWN HALL), 2017
In this room, the photographic series are arranged in such a way as to visually and conceptually reference the dialogue between the architecture and the natural world outside, made possible by the large glass window on the lower floor of PAC. The images of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, built in Plano, Illinois between 1945 and 1951, and S.R. Crown Hall (1950–56), home of the Illinois Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture in Chicago, reveal the soul of the buildings and the idea of an empty wall that becomes a two-way filter for the outside world.
UNTITLED (MANETTI SHREM MUSEUM OF ART), 2016; UNTITLED (THE MET BREUER), 2016
The process of the geometric abstraction of the architectural element evident in the photographs of Crown Hall – for which Mondrian was the acknowledged model – and the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at the University of California, Davis (2013–16) arrives at almost metaphysical effects in the shots of the Met Breuer in New York (1966), which narrate the dialogue between simplicity, emptiness and silence on the one hand, and the enveloping spiritual dimension that manifests itself when one spends time inside the building, on the other.
UNTITLED (CASA DEL FASCIO), 1999
For Luisa Lambri, architecture exists in abstract and subjective terms. The photographs reflect her interaction with the space that she “inhabits”, recording a constant change in spatial and formal perception in which memory intertwines with the passage of time, as we find in the photograph of Giuseppe Terragni’s Casa del Fascio (1932–36) in Como. More than an accurate representation of a building, her work is an existential practice close to performance and theatre. The chosen spaces speak of her, they are a reflection of her person. The photographs are self-portraits that lack her image but are full of her personal experiences, in which collective and individual stories and images are superimposed.
UNTITLED (CASA FERNANDO MILLÁN), 2003
In 2003, Luisa Lambri spent a few months in Brazil as an artist-in-residence at the Colecção Teixeira de Freitas, photographing important buildings by Brazilian architects and others active in Brazil, such as Oscar Niemeyer, Paulo Mendes da Rocha and Lina Bo Bardi.
The detail of a window in the Fernando Millan House built by Paulo Mendes da Rocha in San Paolo between 1970 and 1974 is the subject of the series of photographs in this section. Her gaze dwells on a hopper window half-open in a way that underlines the diagonal lines of opening to the outside, towards a luxuriant nature of philodendron leaves that seem to want to occupy the space created by humans. The sequence of photographs of the same fragment of architecture or from the same point of view records minimal variations of framing and light and expresses a sense of duration and the passage of time. Their softness of tone and colour lend the images a sculptural character, visually opening the space: the five photographs become five points of breaking through the wall.
Lambri’s photographs capture our attention and kindle our imagination or memory: from them we may extract a fragment of life.
UNTITLED (STRATHMORE APARTMENTS), 2002
Displayed at the exit of the exhibition, this photograph from the series Untitled (Strathmore Apartments), 2002, dialogues with the window of the entrance to PAC, reaffirming the close relationship between Luisa Lambri’s photographs and the architecture of Ignazio Gardella.
For Lambri, images such as these, in which the light passes gently through the slats of the Venetian blind, speak of the same monochrome whiteness and structural organisation intrinsic to the making of the work, proper to Piero Manzoni’s Achromes.
Lambri’s photographs reveal a metalinguistic interest in language and the formal aspects and technical-constituent elements of artistic practices, and, more specifically, of the photographic medium, understood as an extension of the artist herself.
Luisa Lambri (Como, 1969) currently lives in Milan. Her work has been exhibited at the Rome Quadriennale (2020), the Cleveland Triennial (2018), the Chicago Architecture Biennial (2017) and the Venice Biennale (Architecture 2010 and 2004, Art 2003 and 1999). She has had solo exhibitions at the Met Breuer, New York (2017), the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (2012), the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2010), the Baltimore Museum of Art (2007) and the Menil Collection, Houston (2004); and her work has been shown in many group exhibitions including the Tate Modern, London (2018) and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2009). Lambri’s work is included in several collections, including those of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles and the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, New York.