Friday, November 19, 2010

Lucas Samaras: Poses/Born Actors @Pace

JTF (just the facts): A total of 118 color photographs, framed in black and matted, and hung against grey walls in a winding series of connected spaces. All of the works are pure pigment on paper, each sized 32x18 and printed in editions of 3. The images were made in 2009 and 2010. A catalogue of the exhibition is available from the gallery for $40. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Lucas Samaras has made a career out of transforming portraiture, extending its boundaries in new and unexpected directions. Long before the advent of Photoshop, he was playing with ways to alter reality, from distorted manipulated emulsions to wild colored stage lighting. His newest works continue to upend conventions, taking the standard beauty of the headshot portrait and digitally recasting it as a buoyantly ghoulish riff.
Gathering his subjects from the art world, Samaras has amplified the photographic drama by lighting the faces from below, creating weird shadows and exaggerated highlights. Many of his sitters have agreed to wear glasses, either normally or perched lower on their noses, adding another layer of reflection and refraction, often drawing angled shadows like horns or wings across their faces. While these effects might be enough to add an element of theatrical performance, it is Samaras' splashes of outrageous color that create the eye-popping oddities. In otherwise normal black and white images, metallic, opalescent color is selectively introduced, making irises bright yellow or lime green, the edge of a shirt neon blue or hot pink, the shadow under a chin a psychedelic rainbow of heat. Swirling oil slicks of color are poured into neutral backgrounds and shimmering streaks are applied to powerful, wrinkled faces like crazy eye makeup or lipstick. Normal faces become diabolical and demonic, surreal in their hidden malevolence. In one startling distorted portrait, a man's neon yellow face peels away to reveal another layer underneath, his eyes blue in one layer and green in the next.

Samaras' approach has been applied to a parade of famous artists, collectors, curators, writers, gallery owners, and museum trustees, creating a gallery of well known faces, from Jasper Johns, Chuck Close and Cindy Sherman, to Leonard Lauder, Agnes Gund and Glenn Lowry, seen not with perfect respect, but with a tinge of playful malignancy. It's a thoroughly entertaining approach, for those both known and unknown, as the series of everyday faces becomes something altogether more alien and sinister. The show is certainly one of the most gleefully mischievous exhibits I've been to in quite a while, showing once again that Samaras has a nearly endless reserve of ways to undermine traditional portraiture.

Collector's POV: All of the works in this show are priced at $16000 each. Samaras' work has not been widely available in the secondary markets in recent years, with only a few lots coming up for sale here and there. Aside from the recent Polaroid sale, where a new record was set for his work ($194500) and many of his other vintage images sold for five figure prices, Samaras' work has been relatively affordable, with most lots selling at auction for under $10000.

In my view, these Samaras portraits have the potential to be the next hot commission, the must have of the moment for many collectors. I suppose that for those that take themselves too seriously, there is the potential to hate these pictures. But for others with a more playful sense of humor, a portrait in this freakish style could become an amazingly fun family heirloom.

Rating: ** (two stars) VERY GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Reviews/Features: Artinfo (here), Daily Beast (here), Vanity Fair (here), Interview (here), W (here)
Lucas Samaras: Poses/Born ActorsThrough December 24th

534 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001

1 comment:

elderlyservices said...

I've seen Samaras's work before and it is stunning to say the least. Love the simple black frames.