Light and Space artist Lita Albuquerque investigates the place of people in the universe in her installations, paintings, sculptures, environmental works, public art, and site-specific land art. Her work is centered upon scale and the smallness of humans in the cosmos. She has always been interested in the relationship of the earth to the sky, in the ‘sacred geometry’ of hexagonal patterns, and in the alignment of the body with the universe. Her works are best viewed from above to better reveal their position in the cosmos. “I was interested in that impossibility of vision being able to perceive only what is around us, yet aware that . . . what we are perceiving is only part of a much larger vision.“
Born in Santa Monica and raised in Tunisia and Paris by a strong single mother, Albuquerque and her family settled in the United States when she was 11 years old. A student of Robert Irwin’s, Albuquerque received her B.F.A. in 1968 from U.C.L.A. When American astronauts landed on the moon in 1969, her artistic perspective shifted. In 1970, she joined the Light and Space movement while studying at Otis College of Art and Design from 1970 to 1972. An educator, Albuquerque taught art at Otis, Parsons School of Design, Art Institute of Chicago, and Arizona State University. For decades she was a core faculty member and graduate advisor at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
Albuquerque emerged in the 1970s as a Light and Space artist. She became known for her ephemeral pigment drawings where she mapped the terrain by marking the California desert with colored pigment powders. The delicate ways in which powder must be applied – through breath, wind, and air – denotes the artist’s interest in the metaphysics of the natural world.
In 1980, she unveiled her gigantic Washington Monument Project, a shadow calendar made by trenches carved into the ground on the sides of the Washington Monument. It became a giant sundial, a gigantic timepiece, a reminder of the cosmos.
She has created art installations in various desert sites in the world including a massive art project near the Great Pyramids of Giza. Her “Sol Star” marked the desert south of the pyramids with blue circles, and each one was associated with a star. She created an ephemeral, short-lived map of the stars, which was blown away by the desert winds after only a few days. This installation won the Cairo Biennale Prize in 1997.
In 2006, her “Stellar Axis: Antartica,” funded in part by her National Science Foundation Artist Grant, was the first artwork ever installed on Antarctica. There were 99 fabricated blue spheres, which corresponded to 99 stars above, with the spheres reflecting the brightness of the stars. During the course of this installation the earth rotated. The alignment between the constellation of spheres and stars shifted, marking the passing of time and space.
Her public art can be found in cities, universities, libraries, and embassies around the world. In Sacramento, California she made the largest public art in the state’s government. In Los Angeles she made public art for the city’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
In Sunnylands, an estate in Rancho Mirage, California, Albuquerque’s “Hearth” 2017 is a life-size ultramarine blue sculpture of a woman. It is made from a full-body cast of the artist’s daughter Jasmine. The figure is lying down on the ground in the middle of a circle of white marble dust. She is on her side with her ear to the ground. Albuquerque has used this figure in other pieces. Viewers are always drawn to this mysterious work as if the figure is listening to something in the earth or listening to the silence. She has also joined with others in a performance piece centered on this sculpture.
When her home, studio, archive, personal photographs, memorabilia, and much of her work was destroyed in the 2018 Woolsey fire in southern California, her spirit stayed strong. When she saw the steel containers that held her destroyed materials, her response to the containers was, “This texture, wow, it’s really beautiful . . . I’m thinking of cutting them and making something with them.”
In addition to the National Science award, Albuquerque received three N.W.A. Art in Public Places awards; an N.E.A. Individual Fellowship grant; a Fellowship from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation; and the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Distinguished Women in the Arts award. And as has been previously mentioned, she represented the United States at the Sixth International Cairo Biennale and won the Biennale’s top prize.
Her work is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Getty Museum, Laguna Art Museum, Palm Spring Desert Museum, and others.