In preparation for its new, $650 million building by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Peter Zumthor, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) secured government and private funding, promised to open satellite locations to serve a broader audience and, this winter, began to ready four of its campus buildings from the 1960s and ’80s for demolition—but not before artist Vera Lutter spent nearly two years memorializing those structures and the collections they housed.
Lutter relied on her signature technique: the centuries-old technology of a camera obscura—in this case a makeshift plywood room, completely darkened save for a tiny hole that allowed just enough light to project an image, upside down and backward, on the opposite wall, captured with photosensitive paper. Her black-and-white photographs of the museum’s facades, galleries, old master paintings and garden filled with Rodin sculptures are negatives, like developed film, giving them a haunting, abstract quality.
The project will be on view at LACMA beginning March 29, just as the long-gestating Zumthor plan is expected to finally kick into gear. Lutter brought her own brand of tenacity to the encyclopedic museum: Many exposures took months—so long that museumgoers left no trace. Others were quicker; in her view of the garden, Lutter was able to capture the wind in the gently blurred palm trees. Despite her precise calculations, she tells Robb Report, “It’s always a surprise when I see my images.”
Asked if she has a favorite from the project, the German-born, New York-based artist cites Art of the Pacific, II: September 21, 2017–January 5, 2018, for which she reshuffled diverse items from the Pacific Islands to her liking.
“I had my hands in it,” she explains. “If I had another life, I’d love to be an artist curator—just take these fascinating pieces and arrange them the way I want.”
To be sure, though Lutter has trained her pinhole on cities, airports and ancient ruins, museums hold special significance for her. “When I have a happy museum visit, I have a sense that time stands still, and I’m in a space with just these objects. It’s incredibly private,” she says, adding that with her practice she’s “seeking to continue that experience of an intimate, personal, quiet view of art. I’m aware it’s not straightforward documentary photography. I hope to intrigue the viewer to come in and look.”