John Divola spent two years in the late 1970s visiting an abandoned house on Zuma Beach in Malibu. The house had wide, glassless ocean-facing windows, and he would spray-paint or otherwise alter the walls around them before re-photographing them. Each image in the resulting Zuma series shows the ocean through a differently colored frame, dilapidated to varying degrees. The increasing decrepitude from one image to another makes more sense when you realize Divola had an unofficial collaborator, though he didn’t know it at first. Each time he returned, the house was increasingly burnt; it turns out the local fire department was using the house for training.
Divola falls somewhere between New Topographics photographer Lewis Baltz and Gordon Matta-Clark, known for his “building cuts.” He’s rigorously systematic, yet iconoclastic and open to chance. This combination can have magical effects: in Zuma #9, the charred, peeling ceiling and debris-strewn floors contrast with the bright blue spray-painted stripe and a sunset view of the Pacific in vivid purple, pink and blue. This photograph hangs in the Pomona Museum of Art, until December 22, part of John Divola: As Far as I Could Get, a retrospective in three parts spread across three locations.