Isn't everything Lucas Samaras has ever done a self-portrait of sorts? That's the point of an exhibition of some 350 of his dazzling works that opens at the Whitney Museum in November. Depicting himself as a young nude satyr in an early painting, he gazes not at us but at himself. His face peeks out from within pin- and yarn-encrusted boxes and elaborately patterned pastels of the '60s, Auto-Polaroids and PhotoTransformations of the '70s, and cut paper drawings and ink studies of the '80s. In the '90s he is still scrutinizing himself in startling photographs, only time has turned him into a gray-bearded wizard. Even when he seems absent from his work, symbols, monograms, vacant chairs, or mirrored containers that multiply his reflection serve as surrogates. And on the rare occasions when other people appear in his pictures, as in the Sittings, the artist lurks in each photograph, staring back at the camera. Since virtually his whole gloriously narcissistic oeuvre, from the '50s to now, consists of mutations of himself, his visage, his body, and his name, this exhibitionwhile focusing on anything that has to do with his personacan certainly be called a retrospective. In fact, "Unrepentant Ego: The Self-Portraits of Lucas Samaras" (November 13-February 8), is his first full-blown retrospective in the city since 1972, before the current crop of young artists was even born.
No one would mistake Samaras for a new kid on the block, despite the fact that he exhibited his cluttered bedroom at Green Gallery in 1964, eons before the teenage bedroom shows and accumulative aesthetic of small works that have proliferated lately. He's been around since the days when he acted in early Happenings. But his contrary, mercurial, prolific work has been such a ubiquitous presence, never quite fitting the mold of whatever was going on, that some tended to relegate him to the status of eccentric loner, ignoring his innovations and, yes, perennial influence. Let's not forget that in the 1960s and '70s his dazzlingly protean and excessive art offered alternatives to Minimal and Conceptual severity, or that he was sewing, pinning, and using scissors and glue before women's lib burst on the scene. Or that he elevated craft materials and amateur techniques back when they were major taboos. But his greatest, and least acknowledged, contribution has been in the area of photography. He was snapping himself in various guises, with wigs and with guile, a decade before Cindy Sherman came along with her movie stills. He was morphing his image by warping the emulsion on Polaroid film long before anyone dreamed of digital manipulation or Photoshop. In fact, the history of photography's acceptance as art is inextricably tied up with his radical use of an instant film technology meant for laymen.
Having started out with the first TP-X camera in 1969, before Polaroid's scientists had figured out how to set the emulsion, Samaras's photographs progressed along with the technology. In 1973 he began using the SX-70. By the late '70s he was experimenting with oversize Polaroid cameras and film: 8x10, 20x24, room size. In the mid '80s he did Panoramas. And now, for the past year or so, he has been working with computers. "When I began using Photoshop and a Leica digital, I was so thrilled I was beside myself," he says. "I started going to Central Park, it was wintertime, and I fell in love with the ducks. While I was doing that I sort of discovered the park. The camera, it's almost like a magical thing. It likes or it doesn't like. At this stage I didn't think I was going to photograph myself again nude but the camera liked it." And so there he is, a shrunken green sprite lurking in the foliage. A disembodied genie, a melting gnome, a doubling hermit, or a flock of cloned creatures in digital works that recall everything he has ever done while reinventing the bandshell, the 86th Street transverse police building, Bethesda fountain, and a columned bathroom into phantasmagorical settings for his virtual likeness. In one, appearing as a centaur-like duck, the artist is about to take a dip. A dozen or so of these new photo-fictions will be at the Whitney. A couple more will be in his solo show in November at PaceWildenstein.
"Unrepentant Ego: The Self-Portraits of Lucas Samaras," November 13-February 8, Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, 212-570-3633. TBA title, November 11-January 17, PaceWildenstein, 32 East 57th Street, 212-421-3292.
September 20-October 25
GAGOSIAN, 555 WEST 24TH STREET, 212.744.2313
As if the spatial contortions of his huge torus sculptures weren't enough, this master monumentalist is now exploring the outer limits of double tori, back-to-back tori, and spherical torus mazes in four enormous new works.
October 10-November 15
GORNEY BRAVIN + LEE, 534 WEST 26TH STREET, 212.352.8372
Stockholder asked 30 fellow artists to contribute works for this solo show, and she plans to absorb them all into her own improvised installation, using works by Peter Halley, Joe Scanlan, Tim Davis, Cindy Sherman, and a bunch of others as readymade art materials. Is this collaboration, cannibalism, or multiple vision?
RIRKRIT TIRAVANIJA+NICK RELPH & OLIVER PAYNE
October 11-November 8
GAVIN BROWNS ENTERPRISE, 620 GREENWICH STREET, 212.627.5258
Tiravanija does something of a self-portrait, using Paul Thek's Dead Hippie as a point of inspiration. Hot young London filmmakers Relph & Payne explore ignored public spaces, such as public toilets, as sites of private activities.
October 12-December TBA
P.S.1 CONTEMPORARY ARTS CENTER, 22-25 JACKSON AVENUE, LONG ISLAND CITY, QUEENS, 718.784.2084
"Interiors" is an installation of 11 translucent fabric screens with three video projections of four scenarios shifting from screen to screen, and a circular white sofa in the center. "The Real Royal Trip," a group show of work by young Spaniards and Latin Americans, also opens the same day.
October 14-November 22
MARIAN GOODMAN, 24 WEST 57TH STREET, 212.977.7160
Whatever this Mexican artist does, it's always a surprise, so we won't know (neither will he) what to expect in advance. But this makes perfect sense, since his work is about attentiveness, immediacy, and making the most of whatever suggests itself.
TIM ROLLINS+KOS: 'THE WAR OF THE WORLDS'
October 15-November 22
WHITE BOX, 601 WEST 26TH STREET, 212.714.2347
We get to see Rollins and the Kids of Survival at work as they transform an exhibition space into a functioning studio andcollaborating with 24 other kids from the neighborhoodcreate a large painting based on H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. Everyone's welcome to watch.
October 15-January 4
STUDIO MUSEUM IN HARLEM, 144 WEST 125TH STREET, 212.864.4500
Blaxploitation, break dancing, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar meet chinoiserie, kung fu, and Bruce Lee
in this show, which explores a cross-cultural phenomenon that began in the '70s and '80s. Among the 22 mostly African American and Asian American artists are Rico Gatson, Patty Chang, Ellen Gallagher, Michael Joo, David Hammons, and David Diao.
October 16-February 15
ASIA SOCIETY, 725 PARK AVENUE, 212.288.6400
If you didn't see Tooba in Kassel last year, you can catch this Iranian-born artist's double-screen video projection, commissioned by Documenta 11, here. Like all her work, it's infused with high drama and enigma.
'MY PEOPLE WERE FAIR AND HAD CUM IN THEIR HAIR (BUT NOW THEY'RE CONTENT TO SPRAY STARS FROM YOUR BOUGHS)'
October 18-November 15
TEAM, 527 WEST 26TH STREET, 212.279.9219
Don't blame T-Rex for the title. Curator Bob Nickas dreamed up this salon-style "visual assault" by a bunch of white males. And don't call it the revenge of the straight white male, because most of those included, ranging from Jack Smith and John Waters to Jules de Balincourt and Brice Dellsperger, aren't.
October 23-November 20
I-20, 529 WEST 20TH STREET, 212.645.1100
When he's good he is very good and even when he isn't, his 3-D video installations are perfectly realized one-liners. Bohr's Atom, a four-channel circular project, envisions physicist Niels Bohr's quantum jump. Commissioned by Dan Cameron for the current Istanbul Biennial, it's being shown here at the same time.
October 25-November 29
METRO PICTURES, 519 WEST 24TH STREET, 212.206.7100
Baltimore, this brainy filmmaker's most recent sensuous three-screen video projection, filmed at three Baltimore museums (a wax museum among them), pays homage to blaxploitation films. Melvin Van Peebles is in it, in person and in wax.
October 25-January 24
EXIT ART, 475 TENTH AVENUE, 212.966.7745
For a show about "Latino-ness" in the popular imagination, about 20 young new Latino artists who live in the U.S. have been commissioned by Exit Art to create works about role models. Will this be the J.Lo show? Three artists chose her but others prefer Tito Puente, Speedy Gonzalez, Cantinflas, and Frida Kahlo.
October 28-January 4
METROPOLITAN MUSEUM, 1000 FIFTH AVENUE, 212.535.7710
With over 100 paintings and drawings, from his social realist days to the abstract expressionist canvases to his stumblebum figuration, this traveling retrospective touches down at the Met before going on to the Royal Academy in London.
October 31-December 20
DRAWING CENTER, 35 WOOSTER STREET, 212.219.2166
With 25 remarkable diagrammatic drawings, "Global Networks" maps all kinds of unsavory global secrets and nefarious webs of corporate, military, political, and underworld connections worthy of James Bond. It's enough to make anyone paranoid.
November 8-December 20
THE PROJECT, 427 WEST 126TH STREET, 212.662.8610
It's still in the early stages and could evolve into something else, but right now she plans to create "Mandala 2003," a project that, like all her work, is about pure energy, with lighting, color sequences, jukeboxes, and the sounds of chants from different cultures.
November 8-December 23
D'AMELIO TERRAS, 525 WEST 22ND STREET, 212.352.9460
Loss of self and attempts at its recovery are the subject of a show featuring a video of Ligon in a therapy session, layered with flashbacks, movie scenes, and bits of the unconscious, plus drawings that refer to his childhood.
November 13-December 20
KLEMENS GASSER & TANJA GRUNERT, 524 WEST 19TH STREET, 212.807.9494
The Finnish videomaker will most likely show The Home, her uncanny psychological three-screen evocation of a disturbed woman in a disturbed house, along with a new work.
November 20-February 22
WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, 945 MADISON AVENUE, 212.570.3600
This traveling show, organized by MCA Chicago, features a decade's worth of work by a virtuoso painter with a knack for zeroing in on collective obnoxiousness.
November 21-December 30
LOMBARD FREID, 531 WEST 26TH STREET, 212.967.8040
This Basque-born artistwho uses low-tech means to create a look of high-tech special effectsshows new video works and stills that relate to the video performances of the '70s. If he gets it together, there may also be an installation with moving walls.
BARBARA GLADSTONE, 515 WEST 24TH STREET, 212.206.9301
This German artist's obsessively ongoing Ur-House, a nightmare replica of his childhood home, was a spooky hit in Venice a couple of years ago. This fall it's at MOCA in L.A., and he's making a new installation for his first solo here. Expect something architectural, uncanny, and really complicated.
Reviews by VINCE ALETTI
KEITH DE LELLIS GALLERY, 47 EAST 68TH STREET, 212.327.1482
September 18-November 21
"Life in Motion," a retrospective of personal and commercial work by a photographer whose '40s and '50s experiments still look remarkably fresh.
September 18-November 15
EDWYNN HOUK GALLERY, 745 FIFTH AVENUE, 212.750.7070
With "Last Measure," a series of large-scale, elegiac landscapes made at famous Civil War battlefields, Mann delves deeper into Southern history and its contemporary relevance.
September 20-November 1
SONNABEND GALLERY, 536 WEST 22ND STREET, 212.627.1018
The first New York showing of Sugimoto's ultra-iconic "Architecture" seriesout-of-focus black-and-white images of structures from the Eiffel Tower to the World Trade Center.
September 25-November 1
HOWARD GREENBERG GALLERY, 41 EAST 57TH STREET, 212.334.0010
The first show in this gallery's new Fuller Building space is devoted to vintage work from Davidson's personal archive, including previously unexhibited images from his memorable series on Brooklyn teens, civil rights marchers, and the residents of East 100th Street.
October 3-January 11
BROOKLYN MUSEUM OF ART, 200 EASTERN PARKWAY, 718.638.5000
This French photographer's theatrically staged portraits of far-flung members of the Jewish diaspora were made over the past 25 years in India, Mexico, China, Yemen, Russia, and elsewhere.
October 12-November 30
P.S.1 CONTEMPORARY ART CENTER, 22-25 JACKSON AVENUE, LONG ISLAND CITY, 718.784.2084
Graham's arresting new series, "American Night," includes virtually empty rural American landscapes almost entirely drained of color.
October 16-November 15
CHEIM & READ, 547 WEST 25TH STREET, 212.242.7727
This always inventive and intriguing photographer shows new daguerreotypes of human skulls, small self-portraits on enamel plaques, and a life-size, frost-covered sculpture of the artist as a child.
October 16-November 29
YANCEY RICHARDSON GALLERY, 535 WEST 22ND STREET, 646.230.9610
"Life and Death in Hackney," this excellent British photographer's New York debut, focuses on a group of squatters in his East London neighborhood.
October 16-December 6
YOSSI MILO GALLERY, 522 WEST 24TH STREET, 212.414.0370
Johan's photographic projections of the pleasures and terrors of childhood take an unusual turn in this new series of environmental still lifes.
October 16-December 6
ROBERT MANN GALLERY, 210 ELEVENTH AVENUE, 212.989.7600
With double the number of works on display at the concurrent Whitney show, this Siskind centennial event, with prime vintage examples of his muscular abstractions and still lifes, will be hard to beat.
October 17-November 26
JULIE SAUL GALLERY, 535 WEST 22ND STREET, 212.627.2410
Jacobson strengthens his feel for color with this new group of figure studies and landscapes, both urban and pastoral, all in luminous, expressionist soft focus.
October 30-December 6
ANDREA ROSEN GALLERY, 525 WEST 24TH STREET, 212.627.6000
New work, likely to straddle abstraction and representation, by a photographer whose output is protean, personal, and always of the moment.
October 31-December 20
ARIEL MEYEROWITZ GALLERY, 120 ELEVENTH AVENUE, 212.414.2770
Meyerowitz took breaks from photographing the devastation at ground zero to record the beauties of Tuscany in this series of large-scale landscapes that, like his famous images of the bay at Cape Cod, are all about color and light.
NIKKI S. LEE
November 1-December 20
LESLIE TONKONOW ARTWORKS + PROJECTS, 535 WEST 22ND STREET, 212.255.8450
Lee, whose earlier series seemed more about performance than photography, combines both to great effect in this group of provocatively truncated images of the artist with a companion who's been cut out of the picture.
November 13-December 29
THROCKMORTON FINE ART, 145 EAST 57TH STREET, 212.223.1059
A wide-ranging celebration of the career of this contemporary Mexican artist, whose work often seems steeped in feminist myth-making and magic realism.
November 19-December 31
JANET BORDEN INC., 560 BROADWAY, 212.431.0166
Barney continues to explore the fine line between the staged and the spontaneous image with these large-scale social studies of the French upper class at home, inspired in part by the paintings of Vuillard and Bonnard.
December 11-January 24
YOSSI MILO GALLERY, 522 WEST 24TH STREET, 212.414.0370
In what looks to be one of the season's most promising debuts, this Minneapolis-based photographer shows color imagesportraits, landscapes, and still lifesof life along the Mississippi.
December 2-January 17
ZABRISKIE GALLERY, 41 EAST 57TH STREET, 212.752.1223
In a departure from his portraiture and figure studies, Nixon shows urban landscapes centering around Boston's long-running tunnel construction project and its environs.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.