Lucas Samaras on collecting exotic species of the art world and beyond.
In a cool-toned photo, Whitney curator Chrissie Iles looks intensely at the camera, her pale blue eyes framed by loose blonde hair. Alarmingly, however, there is a fiery patch of skin on her throat. The digital photograph is from Lucas Samaras’s “Poses” series of portraits, all lit from below, in which he made strange and subtle interventions using Photoshop. He emphasizes chins, cheeks, and the undersides of noses—giving everyone a slightly demonic air. “I’d tell them, ‘If you wear glasses, bring them,’” says Samaras of his subjects. Cindy Sherman appears in tiny rectangular spectacles that cast a sharp line above her red-rimmed, glowing eyes, while artist Philip Tsiaras’s round frames make soft arches on his eerily smooth, slightly orange skin.
Samaras photographed nearly 100 people for the series, a selection of which is on view at Pace Gallery until December 24. Artists ranging from a stern-looking Jasper Johns to Sterling Ruby, in sunglasses, appear with curators, critics, editors, and dealers. Mixed in are musicians David Byrne, in a zipped-up sweater, and Andrew W.K., with a little lime green above his eyes. Financier Evelyn de Rothschild fills the frame with his kind-looking face—only his eyes and collar are colorized. There are also lawyers, a doctor, a dentist, and even literary agent Morton Janklow, who lifts a tough eyebrow above purple-tinged cheeks. Getting an interesting sample of people was important to Samaras. “It’s like going into a jungle to collect all the exotic species,” he says.
Samaras took his subjects’ identities into consideration when making the work. “It’s not a collaboration,” he told ARTnews. “But I do yield to what their personalities dictate.” His sitters were prepared to be unflattered. MoMA’s chief photography curator, Peter Galassi, is lit like the star of an old horror movie, his eyebrows turned into dark shadows. “I have many failings,” Galassi says, “but fortunately vanity is not one of them.”