Los Angeles

Sam Samore

Luhring Augustine Hetzler

Sam Samore literally refuses to identify himself. (“For reasons of privacy,” he concludes his statement in a recent group-show catalogue, “the artist has chosen not to disclose any personal biographical information”). Talk about coy: Samore presented (more like hid) eight snapshots, each cropped to postage-stamp size, on the three walls of the gallery’s huge main room. On the floor-to-ceiling window that constitutes the room’s fourth wall, he printed six panels of text. One must snoop around to discover Samore’s art (all the checklist discloses about the photographs is “no title, no date”), and a sense of complicity is established between the viewers and the predatory camera, as they eventually uncover telephoto pictures of people seen walking down sidewalks, standing with friends, and sitting in cafés—all apparently unaware they’re being watched.

Samore’s installation takes advantage of the way in which the gallery context inclines visitors to make the most out of whatever’s on display. It’s hard not to feel like a fellow junior detective, or perhaps a Peeping Tom, scrutinizing the photographs’ every detail (hairstyle, clothing, gesture, stance) for possible invisible evidence (thoughts, impulses, allegiances, desires). Samore evokes computer dating as well as police surveillance, which mitigates a sense of stock Big Brother alarmism. Here the watchful gaze issues from both public agencies and private citizens (scanning for subversives, a piece of ass, a wink). Equal parts conspiracy theorist and wet-dreamer, Samore collages a bittersweet portrait of love American-style, in which detection is the desired alternative to loneliness and people approach one another like veritable consumer catalogues of significant traits, human acquaintance more contemplated than lived. Fittingly, what Samore has printed on the gallery’s front glass are lists of identifying features—bra sizes, age groups, ethnic distinctions, sexual orientations, heights, even penis lengths—the categories by which people measure, describe, affiliate, and otherwise register themselves in that abstraction we still like to call social life.

Contrasting the intimate scale of the eight whittled snapshots are two triptychs of poster-sized, black and white prints—three ears and three lips—that offer up more photo-acreage but even less to look at. Classification is obviously this show’s governing theme, with cropping its material expression. No question Samore possesses a discriminating eye, and not just in the esthetic sense—his shot selection seems predatory, and he doesn’t edit pictures so much as butcher them. The result is an object lesson in how artmaking orders the world; as the eye that accompanies the long arm of the law, representation serves as a form of apprehension, conspiring with power to clear the visual field of everything but stereotypes and lifeless certainties.

If anything, Samore’s show is crowded with things we can’t see—the faces that go with the ears and lips, the public settings from which suspects have been cropped. Add to this the endless expanse of bare walls and conspicuous absence of titles, and Samore’s elusiveness begins to grate. Perhaps withholding information is Samore’s way of addressing the problem of information and privacy in an age of information, but Sophie Calle he’s not; deft in the role of interrogator, he becomes conspicuous when it comes to secrets. At the limits of his ability to comment on the world of hyperalienation, Samore ends up displaying some of its symptoms. Instead of evoking intimacy, he settles for acting cool.

Lane Relyea