Lucas Samaras at Pace Gallery

Pose 0216

Lucas Samaras, Pose 0216 (2009), pure pigment on paper, 32″ x 18″; courtesy Pace Gallery

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Art world navel-gazing doesn’t get more egregious than Poses/Born Actors, an exhibition of photographs by Lucas Samaras.

Samaras is best known for his AutoPolaroids and PhotoTransformations, portraits wherein the manipulation of photo emulsions resulted in images marked by chilly contrivance, unnerving distortions and fetishistic self-regard. For the current show, the 76-year old artist has taken photos of pals and players–among them, the collector Leonard Lauder, MOMA director Glenn Lowry, former MOMA President Agnes Gund, Whitney director Adam Weinberg and artists like Cindy Sherman, David Byrne and Jasper Johns–in order to reveal concealed vulnerabilities and personas.

Actually, that’s the press release talking.  From the sound of it, you’d almost think Samaras was a portraitist.  But Poses/Born Actors is an essay in anti-portraiture, particularly given Samaras’s spook-house lighting; theatricality genericizes the lot. The work doesn’t explore the depths of the soul. It indulges in blatant gimmickry–“the old man discovers PhotoShop” as a friend put it–and celebrity. Celebrity as it applies to Chelsea, anyway.

That Pace doesn’t provide a hand-out identifying names for what is, essentially, the 25th Street equivalent of The Hollywood Walk of Fame is an annoyance.  The isolated wall label is of little help and Samaras’s titles, numbers all, are willfully evasive . Maybe the artist and the gallery assume that everybody, just everybody, recognizes the “actors”.  At which point, the project’s exclusivity (let’s not call it “incestuousness”) becomes clear. After all, no one’s looking at the things because they’re art, are they?

This much I do know:  The poser pictured above is Alex Katz.

© 2010 Mario Naves


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