Los Angeles

Lucas Samaras

Dwan Gallery

Prick­ly, pin-studded, glass-thorned wall pieces, boxes, constructions, and bags, exotic products of an occupational therapy center for algolagniacs. The grim balance between artist as self­-inflicted victim or as defender of the faith here hinges on the turn of a pin. Hostile content is formalized, however, and maleficent vision so neatly con­trolled by a tidy craftsmanship that after the first “frisson nouveau” one does Samaras the honor of simply ac­cepting an environment whose given is the dangerous omnipresence of sharp, pointed objects. The barbaric pins and needles which he inserts in most of his objects become, so to speak, re-domesticated, and one goes on to admire the inventive ways Sama­ras cajoles mood, pattern, and texture from them. Two pieces in the show which evade this process of formaliza­tion, and consequently remain the most relentlessly brutal, are Wall Piece—4 Forks at Corners, etc. and Book No. 8. The first is a rectangular con­struction with a distorted fork jutting away from each corner in an ugly claw­like, predatory movement. The back­ground is made of little squares of mirror that reflect a broken image back to any viewer who dares approach closely enough; at the center a mass of plain and fancy-headed nails are glued together to form the setting for a long, sharp, double-pronged instru­ment which projects menacingly out­ward. “Book No. 8” was originally a worn, orange velours-covered photo­graph album, but Samaras opens the cover to show two pages lined with pins, the background for two “images” constructed of broken glass, darts, a razor, parts of a flag, a brush of pins, marbles, the end of a knife, and other tricky bits and pieces from some Satan­ic pocket.

In contrast to the metallic truculence of these two constructions is the comparatively decorative frivolity of the multi-colored woolen wall pieces. One is a target constructed of the type of yarn formerly so popular among front bench knitters, in which a sequence of changing colors is repeated endlessly; the mode echoes or perhaps mocks a familiar formalist painting gambit. An­other is made of different colored yarn arranged in ever widening rectangles; pins are inserted in the yarn so that their heads form a delicate, mesh-like pattern over part of a composition that again seems to parody geometric painting.

Samaras’ boxes are another more familiar genre; colorful, ambitiously and at times intricately made, they combine the sharp point motif with readily available Surrealist objects of pseudo-symbolic value, such as body parts, refugee letters, “jewels,” hanks of hair in compositions arranged, by and large, according to the Surrealist cliché of juxtapositional organization. They tend to suggest a theatrical am­bience or fashionable window display­—an effect enhanced by the brilliant celluloids and plastics Samaras uses­—rather than a nightmare vision. One, for example, has a flight of green and orange steps on which we might ex­pect to see eccentric dancing; another juxtaposes a floor of colored stones with hanging claw-forks; a third houses a Whirlpool Waterglass against brill­iant green and gold. The Accordion Box, on the other hand, is a rather ascetic, formally interesting construc­tion of mirrors and tacks, marred only by some cracks which strike a wrong note. Less sensational and superficially less attractive than some of the other theatrical pieces, it expresses succinct­ly the formalized barbarism at the cen­ter of Samaras’ strongest work and in­dicates a feasible path from obsession to form without loss of content.

––Nancy Marmer