Lucas Samaras: New York City, No-Name, Re-Do, Seductions @Pace

JTF (just the facts): A total of 184 color and black-and-white photographs, each measuring 12×12 inches, framed without mats, hung on the grey-painted interior walls of seven freestanding “rooms” in gallery’s main space and the three grey-painted walls of a side gallery. All the photographs are unique. A spiral bound catalog of the exhibition is available from the gallery for $35. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Though he’s worked in a dizzying variety of mediums, Greek-born artist Lucas Samaras is probably best known for his Photo-Transformations of the 1970s. To make these early works, Samaras—a veteran of the Happenings of the late ’50s—took Polaroids of himself nude or in costume; he then manipulated the prints with his fingers or a stylus while they were still developing, producing pocket-sized works of surrealist art that combined painting, photography, and performance.

Since that time, Samaras, now in his eighth decade, has embraced new photographic technologies as they have become available. His current show at Pace comprises close to 200 color and black-and-white pictures that have been digitally transformed in one way or another with Photoshop. They line seven free-standing cubicles, each dedicated to a different subject, built in the main gallery space, as well as the walls of a side gallery. One enclosure contains street scenes in which digital effects such as mirroring and doubling convey urban bustle (and alienation); another features images of city birds—mostly ducks—whose colors, boosted on the computer, have an otherworldly intensity. There is a group of self-portraits—including an especially good one of the artist in the nude that harks back to the Photo-Transformations—overlaid with tiny, geometric patterns, and another group, more disturbing, of black-and-white photographs of a garishly lit, unmade bed. Rooms containing pictures of construction sites, tables at a flea market, and digital abstractions, respectively, round out the show.

The abstractions—of which there are far too many—are static and unappealing, seemingly cranked out on autopilot. The images of the city, and even those of the bed, are more engrossing, particularly when the Photoshop effects are confined to blocks of solid or gradated color. Like Samaras’s best works, they’re obsessional without short-circuiting our involvement.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this exhibition are priced at $6000 each. Samaras’ work has only been sporadically available in the secondary markets in recent years. Aside from the Polaroid sale several years ago, where a new record was set for Samaras’ work ($194500) and many of his other vintage images sold for strong five figure prices, recent prices have ranged between roughly $4000 and $40000.

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JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by Charcoal Press (here). Debossed linen hardcover with cardboard slipcase. 10 x 13 inches, 96 pages, with 48 monochrome photographs. Design by Jesse ... Read on.

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