Picturing architecture like an artist: Luisa Lambri at the PAC in Milan

From the Casa del Fascio to the Barcelona Pavilion to Fontana's cuts: the Como-born artist observes them and returns them to us in her first big solo photo exhibition in Italy, analysing the human condition in its relationship with space. 

As you enter the PAC, you do not get overwhelmed by wonder. There aren’t any spectacular works of art welcoming the visitors to the first big solo exhibition by Luisa Lambri in Italy, curated by Diego Sileo and Douglas Fogle. On the contrary, what you see on the walls of the space designed by Ignazio Gardella is discreet elegance. The photographs, for the most part in black and white, that the artist takes while living the architectural spaces in a very personal way, are hypnotic, and the constant reference between the works of art and the space in which they are displayed is an experience that is a treat for the eyes and the mind, too. Space is the protagonist of the exhibition. It is a subjective space experienced by the artist who, not by chance, decides to open the exhibition with the photographs of Fontana’s cuts (referring to Spatial Environment at Documenta 4, in Kassel, 1968) which, since the very beginning, show us the way for their exit from bidimensionality.  

Although taken in some of the most interesting and best-known modernist buildings (such as Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, Giuseppe Terragni’s Casa del Fascio, and so on), Luisa Lambri’s photographs are not intended to be documentary images of the buildings they portray: the artist likes to focus on marginal details of empty interiors that, if they had not been captured by her poetic gaze, we would otherwise find insignificant. There is a sort of positive obsession in this way of observing, which lingers on the corners, on the half-closed windows, waiting for the light to progressively change their appearance, creating sequences of slight, imperceptible differences dictated by the passing of time. What the artist shows us is not only an architectural space, but above all a space of intimacy and of a feeling that becomes universal: who has never seen a ray of light reflecting on the ceiling? 

Luisa Lambri, Autoritratto. Installation view of the exhibition, PAC 2021. Photo Lorenzo Palmier

The title of the exhibition, “Autoritratto” (Self-portrait, ed.), is inspired by Carla Lonzi’s famous book from 1969, reaffirming Lambri’s attention to women in the field of creativity and, perhaps, echoing that very same appreciation of “unproductive” moments that the Manifesto of Female Revolt (written by Lonzi, Accardi, and Banotti in 1969) talked about. It is as if Lambri’s photographic lens had wandered around without the anxiety of being productive, thus managing to identify magnetic passages and lingering only on what really caught the attention.

What the artist shows us is not only an architectural space, but above all a space of intimacy and of a feeling that becomes universal...

 “Autoritratto” is an exhibition that should be visited slowly. Only in this way can we enjoy the beauty of this view and the intelligence with which the artist has been able to put the very details of the architecture that houses the exhibition before our eyes, even without photographing them. It will not be difficult, for example, if you stand on the first floor in front of the photos of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, to think back on the PAC’s ground-floor windows overlooking the gardens of Villa Reale. 

Likewise, while observing the images of the windows of Richard Neutra’s Strathmore Apartments, which focus on the motif of the slats of Venetian blinds, we are brought to notice the modularity of the horizontal lines of the ceiling of the PAC. Again, once in the glazed parterre, in front of the images of the series on the Sheats-Goldstein House (set up in a similar way to that of Lina Bo Bardi for the Museo de Arte of San Paolo in Brazil), which refer to and subvert the hierarchy between inside and outside, we perceive a formal juxtaposition between the photographs of the willows dematerialising in the light and the marble floor on which they rest. It is as if, to some extent, through her photographs, the artist is inviting us and educating us to have a direct experience of her way of living and observing spaces, both through the photographic images and through the layout of the exhibition.

Luisa Lambri
Curated by:
Diego Sileo and Douglas Fogle
Opening dates:
until 19 September 2021
via Palestro 14, Milan

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