Looking Back

Vera Lutter

March 2, 2020

We asked Vera Lutter to tell us about a photograph that means something to her, and why. Vera Lutter: Museum in the Camera was scheduled to open at LACMA on March 29.

When I first visited LACMA in early 2016, I was impressed with the collection of Oceanic art, and I decided immediately that I wanted to include it in my collaboration with the museum. Curator Nancy Thomas allowed me to work with LACMA’s entire Oceanic art collection. Through this unique opportunity, free to follow my own ideas, I was able to create a new arrangement of these mysterious objects.

With the help of LACMA’s team and my assistants, I spent many days installing the art in front of my room-sized camera obscura. While others worked outside my camera, positioning the individual works, I was situated inside of it, looking at the projected image, which appears on the rear wall, reversed and upside down. Looking at the projection, I was able to give detailed instructions to the team outside the camera.

The exposure itself lasted more than three months, during which time the image and the installation were meticulously monitored and the museum’s permanent galleries were both my private exhibition space and my studio. My project at LACMA, titled Museum in the Camera, opened the conversation about the artistic use of and collaboration with public museum space. This image, Art of the Pacific, II: September 21, 2017 – January 5, 2018, is a record and a manifestation of this collaboration.

This project gave me the opportunity to realize my vision of how these artifacts from different tribes, islands, and historical periods could belong together. Through the new arrangement, I was able to change the scale in which the objects are rendered in my image and transport them into a contemporary context. An underlying, abstracted environment of cubic forms in grey and black tones adds to this new context. My image is a record of the familiar in an unexpected and somewhat alien way. This slightly off sensation invites more scrutiny from the viewer.