Painting on Paper: Vera Lutter’s Old Master Photographs, TEFAF, New York, NY October 28 - November 1, 2017

Painting on Paper: Vera Lutter's Old Master Photographs

LACMA Exhibition

This special exhibition at TEFAF New York showcases the European painting collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as seen through the beautiful and compelling photographs of contemporary artist Vera Lutter. Since February 2017, Lutter has been in residence at LACMA creating a new body of work that examines the museum’s exterior architecture, gallery interiors, and permanent collection. The presentation at TEFAF New York is the first public display of photographs resulting from the residency.

Lutter’s Camera Obscura

Lutter makes photographs using one of the oldest optical technologies still in use, that of the camera obscura. Long before the invention of photography, it was known that if light traveled through a tiny hole into a darkened room, an image of the external world (off which the light rays had reflected) would re-form upside down on a wall opposite the tiny opening. Lutter herself began to use the camera obscura technique in the mid-1990s after moving to New York from Germany for an artist fellowship. Living at the time in midtown Manhattan, she transformed one room of her apartment into a camera obscura to document the skyline outside her window. Since then, Lutter has adopted the camera obscura as her singular working method, building custom cameras or adapting portable structures in which she hangs unexposed photo paper across from a pinhole opening. As the projected image inscribes itself directly onto the paper, Lutter’s technique yields a positive-negative reversal. Because these direct exposures are made without a film negative, each print is unique object.

An Ambitious Residency at LACMA

Under the leadership of CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director Michael Govan, LACMA has been committed to using its encyclopedic collection to foster artistic dialogues across cultures and time periods, often through the intervention of contemporary artists. Over the past decade, the museum has commissioned works and projects by artists including Chris Burden, Michael Heizer, Robert Irwin, Barbara Kruger, and Jorge Pardo. Lutter’s ambitious residency at LACMA has three major components. First, working with a custom-built plywood camera, Lutter has photographed portions of the museum campus that are slated for demolition to make way for a permanent collection building designed by architect Peter Zumthor. Second, Lutter is photographing interior views of selected museum galleries, including the museum’s largest gallery for European painting and sculpture. Finally, the artist is using two room-sized cameras and several small, trunk-sized cameras, to make photographs of paintings in LACMA’s permanent collection. Although she has previously photographed classical and modern sculptures, her reproductions of LACMA’s paintings represent Lutter’s first photographs of two-dimensional artworks.

Long Exposures

Depending on the lighting conditions outside her camera, the exposure time for Lutter’s photographs can range from days to months. Her large-scale photograph of Game Market by Frans Snyders, for example, required 53 days in the camera before it was ready to be developed. By comparison, an outdoor view taken in bright sunlight can take as little as a few hours—the closest thing to a “snapshot” in Lutter’s practice. The photograph estimated to need the longest exposure, Lutter’s image of the museum’s European gallery, will require an exposure time of approximately seven months.

Photographic Transformations

The first photograph Lutter made of a painting in LACMA’s collection was of Ludovico Mazzanti’s The Death of Lucretia, c. 1630. In Lutter’s photograph, the crisp folds of Lucretia’s dress and the surrounding fabric of the bed on which she lies become more dramatic in their negative-positive reversal, heightening the swirling compositional lines of the painting, and lending it an almost vortex-like energy. As J. Patrice Marandel, LACMA curator emeritus, and former chief curator of European Art, observes, “After Vera photographed it, it came out as a completely different Baroque object. And it turned out, in my mind, to look like another staple subject of Baroque painting, the Virgin Mary ascending to heaven.”

Special Preview at TEFAF New York

The presentation at TEFAF New York of selected photographs from Lutter’s residency at LACMA offers fair visitors a special opportunity to preview photographs from the still-ongoing project. A complete survey of works resulting from the commission will be the subject of a major LACMA exhibition in 2019.

Vera Lutter’s residency at LACMA is supported by Sotheby’s.