Thursday, May 07, 2009

when shamen make boxes...

lucas samaras box#53 1966

lucas samaras box#47 1966

lucas samaras untitled 1963

i recently picked up a small group of exhibition catalogs from the early 1970's, one of which was from an exhibition of the boxes of lucas samaras from a show at the museum contemporary art chicago, 1971. i've always been a fan of samaras's early box pieces, particularly the ones that are covered with pins and the ones that use colored yarn to generate patterns. i hadn't seen the two above with the birds on them, which obviously connect his work with joseph cornell for reasons beyond the sharing of birds and box forms... mainly how their works feel so completely personal, hermetic, eerie, homespun, and genuinely weird (and they were also both pretty darn good at being genuinely creepy.)

while cornell's boxes have had a wonderful resurgence of relevance of late, i haven't heard many folks talking about samaras's early work in relation to younger contemporary artists who seem to be exploiting a lot of the same materials and aesthetic - beads, feathers, pins, yarn, craft, funk, mirrors, etc. i think it's high time for this seminal work to be considered in relation to a lot of what is going on now, as well as taken on its own idiosyncratic terms. like ree morton's work, samaras's boxes seem to have come out of nowhere (and remember, frank stella didn't start using feathers and glitter until the 1980's). i have to admit i think these things are pretty great.

here some of samaras's words from interview excerpts in the catalog:

...samaras had wanted to be a priest "and be in contact with death, ghosts, shadows, churches, oil, icons, jewels, costumes, music, punishment, incense, bones, devil, angels, magic." in the boxes are deposited memories of childhood illness which he can also recall verbally: "stethoscope, oral-anal-armpit thermometer, antipyrene pills, emetics, douches, rubber tubes, glass vials, flouroscopes, cotton, steel contraptions, scissors, tweezers, operations, smells."

..."artworks must have more than one side or presence. i find high erotic content in things iridescent, sparkling, fragile, sharp, oily, hairy, pimply, fluffy, dendritic, elastic, pulsating. i love mirrors, shadows, vortexes, lightning, razzle-dazzle, twistedness, and nausea, but all of these things with control."

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Blogger susan heggestad said...

Thanks for the post! I'm a long-time fan of Cornell's - so I'll be keeping an eye out for more of Samaras'...

8:39 AM  
Anonymous carlos said...

Great post, thanks. I love this general period in sculpture, what with mono-ha and Brazilian sculpture just for starters. Boxes of Helio Oiticica's have been made relevant in the last few years largely through the work of the Cisneros folks. These often make use of mirrors, fluorescence, and incorporate pebbles, dyed pebbles, etc but remain more reductivist otherwise. The Samaras boxes are really exquisite, I want to induce his later narcissistic streak in them!

4:44 AM  
Blogger ArtSparker said...

I haven't heard of this work before. Interesting, the list of things he finds erotic, all these odd inconsequential things that carry some weight of memory.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Will said...

Samaras sounds like a fascinating character (or just gives a good interview). I'll definitely investigate. Thanks!

9:59 PM  
Blogger sroden said...

yes, samaras is definitely quite a "character", i think the work is really interesting and ripe for retrospective, and definitely worth investigating if you don't know the work and the breadth...

10:09 AM  
Blogger ctorre said...

If I remember correctly, I went to a Samaras retrospective at the Whitney in 2004 or 2005: lots of boxes, big color photographs, huge rooms made small. ... The boxes are more fun, I think, when you can pick them up and take a look around.

11:24 PM  
Blogger sroden said...

i've never been in a situation where i was allowed to hold one, i would imagine they are a whole other world with handling. i didn't remember the whitney doing something so recent, but more so surprised more people aren't talking about him as a precedent right now, particularly with what is going on in LA sculpturally...

6:15 AM  
Blogger Allison said...

The first box with birds atop seems to and invisible cage above the birds and a closed in case below.
It's quite amazing.

3:19 AM  

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