New York

Lucas Samaras

Pace | 537 West 24th Street

From his Room #1, 1964, (in which he moved the contents of his bedroom into a gallery), to his mirrored Room #2, 1966, to his boxes, chair transformations, photographs, Polaroids, and bronzes, Lucas Samaras’ obsession with representing the self has been characterized by a trippiness that transcends the homespun nature of his production. His pin-and-yarn-encrusted boxes echo those of Joseph Cornell, just as his life (as seen through his work) mirrors that artist’s in its insularity and in the belief it seems to evince that all of the material one needs to create art (both psychic and physical) can be found within one’s home. Samaras’ self-involvement and eclectic output have made him an unusually elusive figure despite his fame. The least considered side of his output is probably his paintings, perhaps because, judged by the standards of this medium (and outside the context of his larger oeuvre), they have gone through some pretty awful periods: think of his neo-Expressionist skull-like portraits of art dealers and critics, or his romanticized self-portraits. Of greater interest are his abstract geometric paintings. This show consists of a selection of these vintage abstractions as well as his most recent “Mosaic Paintings.”

The earlier works exhibited here include his painting Reconstruction #97, 1979, a strange mixture of the domestic and the psychedelic composed of sewn together patterned fabrics, as well as two of his dot paintings, Untitled and Untitled #16 (both 1973), in which multicolored blotches create an allover pattern that is subtly divided by a diagonal in the former and a grid that fractures the allover planes in the latter. The show also includes his disk, tray, and oval paintings, as well as drawings such as Line Drawing #10, 1982, in which multicolored pencils are used to create patterns of straight lines radiating from two separate points on the paper.

The rest of the show consists of a large folding screen, Untitled, 1990, and the recent “Mosaic Paintings” realized in acrylic on canvas board. In certain paintings, the board has been cut to form uneven configurations that subtly violate the rectangle, as if the frame had given way to the physical pressures of the internal geometry. In Mosaic Painting #4, 1991, the irregular support is filled with aggregates of multicolored rectangles within rectangles, divided by diagonal vectors. Open areas of cutaway canvas board and a quote from one of his earlier dot paintings punctuate the field. Indeed, Samaras references his earlier work throughout these paintings. Mosaic Painting #9, 1991, contains a silhouette of a person’s profile staring at a hand-held classical statuette, set in his earlier installation Red Room with Green Figures, 1975; and Mosaic Painting #12, 1991, consists of a plain rectangle filled with brushy grisaille squiggles and boxes of color. The latter work contains not only quotations from his paintings of spectators but a silhouette of a hand holding a hypodermic needle, perhaps a reference to his preoccupation with the psychedelic.

Compared to the “Mosaic Paintings,” his earlier figurative works, though they manifest a natural facility with paint, were too conventional to stand up to the eccentric vitality of the rest of his output. Where abstraction is concerned, Samaras has never been interested in a pure geometry, but rather geometry as a passage to the psychedelic or as a register of obsessive, almost autoerotic activity. In quoting himself amidst a geometric field, he creates a hybrid of the personal and the generic—the self and the quotation—which is the cusp on which his most interesting work has always existed.

The vectors and divisions of his geometric abstractions have never been mere formal gimmicks. Fracture in Samaras’ work is psychological as well as visual, and it is his own splintered ego that has always been reflected in his formal manipulations. At a moment when a new subjectivity is perversely manifesting itself in art, Samaras’ work merits serious reinvestigation.

Matthew Weinstein