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Margherita Spiluttini – Photography as Art about Architecture

mumok insider

Margherita Spiluttini was one of the world’s most renowned photographers of architecture,  and she worked for star architects including Herzog & de Meuron, David Chipperfield, Olafur Eliasson, Hermann Czech, and Friedrich Achleitner. But her achievements are not merely in the field of professional architecture photography, as her work has its own artistic qualities that go far beyond the merely documentary and that combine a subjective creativity with great true-to-reality precision. Spiluttini was the daughter of a builder, and as a child she gained intimate insight into the work of architects and constructors. Initially she was able to utilize the precision that is the prerequisite for all technical operations when taking medical photographs within the scope of her work as a medical assistant—where precision is of existential importance. She came to understand the inside of the human body as a spatially networked structure, and she also gained a view of architecture as something neither rigid nor fixed, but rather as a dynamic living organism with social requirements. This shaped her work from the 1980s, with other influences coming through her relationship with Adolf Krischanitz, who she married in 1970 and who at the time was a member of the Missing Link group of utopian architects, and also her connections to the Graz Forum Stadtpark and their innovative work in the field of photography, which was documented in the magazine Camera Austria. Through Dietmar Steiner and Otto Kapfinger, Spiluttini gained the chance to write architecture reviews for Die Presse newspaper, and to provide the accompanying photographs, as well as to photograph all the buildings featured in the first guide to Vienna’s architecture. Steiner thus sees Spiluttini as the founder of Austrian architecture photography.   

You do not need to look far to find photography in which Spiluttini’s view of architecture becomes the art of photography. A striking example is a photo series of 1980 which shows her tidying up her own kitchen. This is a conceptual work that not only documents a precise section of a room and a work process with an ordering and cleaning function, but is also a portrait of the act of photography itself. The out-of-focus moving figure of Spiluttini appears in the middle of this otherwise sharply focused room, and this vague figure thus stands for the recording mechanisms of the camera. Looking at these photographs together with Spiluttini’s picture of Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s study taken shortly after her death, it is as if we have come full circle—this image can be seen as a portrait of the architect who invented the Frankfurt kitchen with its emancipatory ideal.

Spiluttini was also a highly accomplished landscape photographer, on the basis of her expanded understanding of architecture that saw buildings as part of their urban or other surroundings. Thus her interest in landscapes that are painted into buildings is also no surprise, such as the exotic fantastic landscapes of the Baroque painter Johann Wenzel Berglin in the state rooms at Schönbrunn Palace or at Melk Abbey. The mumok collection has one of Spiluttini’s artistic photo series on the architectural art of Baroque painting, and it is a popular work that is often shown. Her own artistic power shines out especially forcefully in this use of an existing artistic motif for her photography. Spiluttini did not permit her health problems to restrict her in her work, and now her death leaves a painful gap in art and photography.

Karola Kraus, Rainer Fuchs, and the mumok team