ArtNowLA" />

Lucas Samaras Dies at 87

According to Pace Gallery, which represented Lucas Samaras for more than 50 years, the artist passed away in his New York home today from complications following a fall. Samaras was a fervent investigator of both his ego and his body, frequently to startlingly psychedelic effect. He was eighty-seven. Remaining unaffiliated with any movement or style, Samaras over the course of a career spanning seven decades compulsively produced in a series of tiny apartment studios wildly individualistic works that left the viewer breathless amid their variety. “Samaras is one of those artists who doesn’t have influences,” wrote Budd Hopkins in a 1976 issue of Artforum. “He has sources, which go into his hat and come out something else.”

Lucas Samaras was born on September 14, 1936, in Kastoria, Greece, part of the Western Macedonia region. Following World War II, which saw the family home devastated by shelling, Samaras at the age of eleven emigrated with his mother and sister to the US. There they joined his father, a furrier, who had set up a business in Manhattan eight years earlier. The Samarases settled in West New York, New Jersey, where Lucas struggled with English and with his father. “He had been here throughout the war, so I hadn’t seen him for nine years,” Samaras told Artforum in 1966. “Then when I met him again he didn’t know what a child was . . . Consequently, we had, you know, terrific fights.”

Despite the rows, Samaras continued to live at home, in 1955 winning a scholarship to Rutgers University’s art program, which was at the time led by Allan Kaprow. There he studied under Kaprow and George Segal and befriended Robert Whitman. Samaras was a willing participant in the pathbreaking Happenings that were being staged by Kaprow and Whitman at the time, notably performing in Kaprow’s inaugural work of this nature, 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, at New York’s Reuben Gallery in 1959. He began studying under Meyer Schapiro at Columbia University but dropped out after two and half years, studying for a time with Stella Adler and continuing to participate in Happenings, through which he met Jim Dine, Red Grooms, and Claes Oldenburg.

Originally presenting pastels and paintings in the late 1950s, Samaras shifted to plaster in 1960 and then, in 1961, to the box assemblages for which he is perhaps best known. Variously encrusted with beads, straight pins, feathers, yarn, nails, mirrors, and photographs, these constructions seem to hark back to the artist’s childhood, representing, as Donald Kuspit wrote in 2003, the way in which he “hunkered in on himself in a hostile world. He created a small inner space, womblike and reclusive, where he could hold out against the world; a space not unlike the cave in which he hid from the Germans with his mother and aunt.”

In 1964, Samaras exited the family space altogether, moving out of their shared New Jersey home and into New York City, where he promptly reconstructed, at Green Gallery, his bedroom studio, strewn with clothes and art materials. The work failed to sell, its contents eventually divided between Samaras’s new living quarters and the Salvation Army.

Shortly thereafter, he discovered the Polaroid camera, which he turned on himself, creating the “AutoPolaroids” series, 1969–71, and the “Photo-Transformations,” 1973–76, in which he manipulated the photographs to make himself look strange, often monstrous, and frequently obscured by eddying washes of color.

“I was my own Peeping Tom,” he told Art in America in 1970, in an “autointerview.” “Because of the absence of people I could do anything, and if it wasn’t good I could destroy it without damaging myself in the presence of others. In that sense I was my own clay. I formulated myself, I mated with myself, and I gave birth to myself. And my real self was the product—the Polaroids”

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!