Monday, October 22, 2012

Lucas Samaras: XYZ @Pace

JTF (just the facts): A total of 17 large scale color photographs, mounted and unframed, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the smaller front room. All of the works are pure pigment on paper mounted on Dibond, made in 2012. Each print is sized 35x62 and is unique. The works come from four separate series: Flea (6 works), Pixel Cock & Bull (3 works), Chinoiserie (2 works), and Razor Cut (6 works). (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Given Lucas Samaras' history as a consistently innovative photographic manipulator and his repeated use of chaotic distortions and bright psychedelic colors, it seems only natural that he would eventually fully embrace the power offered by the digital realm. His newest works show his gradual conversion to the religion of Photoshop, starting with relatively tame and simple effects and quickly progressing to wilder and more outlandish all-digital flights of fancy. Like Gerhard Richter (here) and Alfred Leslie (here), Samaras is yet another well established artist extending his aesthetic into computer-based imagery.

The works in the front gallery still have some ties to a real world camera. Starting with photographs taken at flea markets, Samaras has used mirroring and partial pixelization to deform the existing images. Army coats, colorful fabrics and leather boots are broken up into small tiles, almost like irregular painted mosaics or armadillo skin. Sophisticated Photoshop jockeys will likely be underwhelmed by these transformations.

Samaras has completely abandoned his camera in the works in the main gallery, diving into the uncharted depths of in situ digital creation. In the Pixel Cock & Bull series, a radiant rainbow of colored squares is twisted and squished into a dense kaleidoscope of graphics. The same pattern is wrapped around an orb, wallpapered down a perspective driven hall, and mirrored into slashing Xes. In the Chinoiserie series, multiple layers of undulating lines are woven into monochome grids and plaids, which are then punctuated by beaming blobs of psychedelic brightness. Samaras takes these ideas even further in the Razor Cut works, where vaguely human forms have been built out of abstract graphics and gradients. Is that a pirate with dreadlocks standing on a flat line beach? Or a feathered Native American dancing like a digital Kachina doll? Are those other "bodies" insectile aliens with long fingers? The graphics explode with unreal neon craziness, the hint of a face traced onto a spinning cluster of flashy lines. He takes the most risks with these images, and the best ones get beyond winking, paint program trickiness to something more fast and furious.

One of the challenges I think a lot of artists are facing when using Photoshop and other digital manipulation tools is that the resulting pictures become tool-driven rather than artist-driven. What I mean is that the artist is so excited and energized by what the software engineers have developed that they fail to really make the tools their own. The danger is work that ends up looking like a great example of how the tool can be used rather than something personal and durably original. With the benefit of hindsight in a few years, I think we will see these particular works by Samaras as a transition point, caught between the old and the new and not yet fully realized in terms of a true and radical Samaras vision of digital composition. But as signposts pointing to the future, I think we can now expect something appropriately remarkable yet to come.

Collector's POV: Each of the works in this show is priced at $38000. Samaras' work has only been sporadically available in the secondary markets in recent years. Aside from the Polaroid sale a few years ago, 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.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Reviews/Features: W (here), Garage (here)
Lucas Samaras: XYZ
Through October 27th

Pace Gallery
508 West 25th Street
New York, NY 10001

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