Lucas Samaras is a Greek artist most known for his experimental self-portraits taken with a Polaroid camera. His diverse practice explores themes of identity, image, and self-depiction. Samaras' varied oeuvre includes photography, painting, sculpture, installation art, printmaking, and performance.Read More
Samaras was born in Kastoria, Greece. In 1948 he moved to New York and studied art at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, where he met artists Allan Kaprow, George Segal, and Roy Lichtenstein. During this period, Samaras became interested in performance art. In 1959 he was invited to show work in Kaprow's 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (1959) group show at Reuben Gallery in New York.
In the early 1960s Samaras began developing his assemblage boxes. In these works, he incorporates sculpture, painting, and architecture alongside the placement of objects such as photographs and mirrors. The use of mirrors and photographs in these artworks marked Samaras' initial exploration of the ego and human physicality. His assemblage boxes were exhibited in the group show The Art of Assemblage (1961) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Similar to Samaras' assemblage boxes, Book 4 (1962) is an intricate art object with a depth of imagined narrative. The sculptural book contains eight fictional stories written by Samaras between 1959 and 1967, and includes unusual details like pockets, foldouts, and pop-ups.
Lucas Samaras' Room No. 2 (1966) is one of the artist's most well-known works, and was inspired by the avantgarde Fluxus movement. In this work, Samaras uses mirrors to create an infinity effect. It is one of the first art installations to invite viewers to become active participants in the artwork.
Room No. 2 was also the artist's first work to become part of a permanent museum collection, purchased by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo in 1966.
In the 1970s Samaras began to focus on photography, particularly Polaroid photography. In 1973 he was asked to experiment with the new SX-70 camera for an exhibition at the Light Gallery in New York.
In the resulting 'Photo-Transformations' series, Samaras scratched and scraped the wet dye emulsion of developing Polaroid photographs to distort his self-portraits. By doing so, the artist altered and disguised his face, creating surrealist and abstract imagery. His iconic series extended the boundaries of photography by manipulating the physicality of photographs.
Chair Transformation Number 20B (1996) is an abstract sculpture that transforms the mundane object of a chair into a nonsensical thing of artistic splendour, drawing from Marcel Duchamp's readymades. In the work, Samaras stacks multiple chairs on top of one another to create an illusion of a staircase leading up to the sky. The sculpture appears to be upright, slanting backwards, or leaning forwards, depending on the viewing angle.
In 2002, Samaras received an American Academy Award in Art. In 2009, he represented Greece at the Venice Biennale with an exhibition that spanned four decades of his practice.
Samaras has exhibited all over the world in both solo and group exhibitions.
His solo exhibitions include Unrepentant Ego: The Self-Portraits of Lucas Samaras, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2003); Lucas Samaras: Paint, Pace Wildenstein, New York (2001); Lucas Samaras: Sittings 1978—1980, Galerie Xippas, Paris (2000); Lucas Samaras: Reconstructions, Jay Grimm, New York (1999); Lucas Samaras: Gold, Pace Wildenstein New York (1998); Lucas Samaras: Photo-Transformations, Pace Wildenstein, Los Angeles (1997); Lucas Samaras — Self: 1961—1991, Yokohama Museum of Art, Yokohama (1991); Samaras: Pastels, Denver Art Museum (1981); Lucas Samaras: Photo-Transformations, Pace Gallery, New York (1974); Lucas Samaras, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1972); and Lucas Samaras: Selected Works 1960—1966, Pace Gallery (1966).
Samaras is represented by Pace Gallery. He joined Pace Gallery in 1965, after which the gallery presented an exhibition of his works made between 1960 and 1966.
Phoebe Bradford | Ocula | 2021