BMA offers a view from a window of time

CRITIC'S CORNER -- ART

March 07, 2007|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Italian artist Luisa Lambri's atmospheric color photographs of Hooper House, a modernist Baltimore residence designed by Marcel Breuer, radiate a dream-like stillness tinged with melancholy and mystery.

All of them show winter sunlight streaming through the trees outside the home's floor-to-ceiling windows. Beyond the trees, a small stream is barely visible from the house.

These poetic images, which go on view tomorrow at the Baltimore Museum of Art, are not intended to describe what Hooper House looks like, however. Nor are they meant to call attention to a particular architectural feature or style, though Breuer was celebrated for the purity of his spare designs.

Rather, these placid views of woods, water and wintry light evoke the artist's personal experience of being in a space as it ineluctably imprints itself on her memory. They are records of time spent watching time pass.

The show is part of the BMA's Front Room series of exhibitions in the museum's new experimental project space at the entrance to the New Wing for Contemporary Art. Lambri's show coincides with a four-part discussion series called Conversations with Contemporary Photographers the BMA is hosting through next month.

The discussions, which will include talks by photographers Thomas Demand, James Welling and Thomas Struth, are designed to explore how photography has affected the way we look at the world, as well as its impact on contemporary art.

Lambri's photographs address both questions. They are about what it feels like to be in a particular place, as well as how that experience translates into images.

In Lambri's case, the translation is accomplished through serial imagery. She plunks her camera down and records the minute changes of light and shadow registered by her lens as the scene before her unfolds. Her pictures are really images of time, which is how the body experiences its sense of place.

Her photographs of the house, which is still occupied, thus became documents of an intensely private response quite independent of any physical description of the place.

"I never think in terms of just photographing architecture," Lambri says. "It happens for more personal reasons. I take pictures of places that I want to remember.

"My work is about time - the time I'm allowed to spend in a place, whether it's a few hours or days," she adds. "The photographs come afterward; they are a consequence of the research I do, but what they document is my identification with that particular place. Through the photograph, I feel I become part of the place somehow."

Lambri, who studied literature in school and is self-taught as a photographer, says so far she has photographed about 50 houses all over the world, always from the inside looking out.

"It's a very female way of looking, I think, and very private," she says.

Initially, she was attracted to houses designed by modern masters such as Breuer and Frank Lloyd Wright, and most of the houses she has photographed were created during modernism's heyday between the 1920s and the 1950s.

The more Lambri became involved in photography, however, the more she realized that what she sought was how these residences made her feel, rather than how they looked.

The artist's experience of melancholy was reflected in her pictures of Hooper House, for example.

"I felt that someone had lived there and then gone away," she recalls. "It was a very moody place, and it had a lonely feeling that was sort of sad."

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

Front Room: Luisa Lambri runs tomorrow through May 20 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive. Call 443-573-1700 or go to artbma.org.

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