Samaras began making his boxes in 1960, but did not start to number them until 1962. Typically his boxes are decorated with rich combinations of pattern and texture created from pins, coloured yarns, string, pebbles, mirrors, photographs, and knives and forks — like reliquaries of the commonplace.
The majority of the boxes made in 1966 are covered with swirls of coloured woollen yarn, something Samaras first employed in 1963.1 This group of boxes tend not to serve as containers but are blocked off with accordion pleating or made of solid components. Two boxes of 1966, Box no. 50 (in the collection of the artist) and the Australian National Gallery's Box no. 54, are pierced with holes and are visibly empty. The biomorphic shape of the holes has apparently been determined by the loops of woollen yarn that decorate the surface and contrast with the austere, white-painted interior. Emptied of the emotionally charged combination of materials of earlier boxes, Box no. 54 is reliant on purely sculptural qualities.
Box no. 54 was completed by 28 August 1966 in preparation for an exhibition at Pace Gallery, New York, held in October that year. A drawing for the box exists, dated 1 April. By this stage Samaras had virtually ceased to use found containers or make his own, and Box no. 54 was fabricated to the artist's requirements. The completed work differs from the drawing in its overall simplification. The number of cut-outs piercing the box form has been reduced and the holes themselves enlarged, both to facilitate construction and to challenge the form of the box. The hinged top and bottom indicated in the drawing have been eliminated as redundant to emphasize the sculptural aspect of the finished work.
In an interview in 1966 Samaras spoke of his interest in 'minimal' trends in contemporary art2 and Box no. 68 seems to reflect this shift. Certainly his boxes of 1968 favour strong geometric shapes. They are hard and sharp-edged, made of wood or cardboard and painted in flat colours. The matrix of dots that cover Box no. 68 underscores the flatness of the planes and, as pointed out by Dr Joan C. Siegfried, may well be a refinement of the pins that adorned previous works.3
The Australian National Gallery collection also includes a number of later works by Samaras: Box no. 85 1973, Reconstruction no. 74 1979, Winged man with head on knee 1980, and Winged woman with three arms
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.367.
- Diary note by Lucas Samaras in Kim Levin, Lucas Samaras, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1975, p.43: 'May 24 (1963) I have recently begun using coloured wool string. I sometimes let my umbrella scratch along the sidewalk when I walk, I love string; I love line, I love making incisions'.
- Alan Solomon, 'An Interview with Lucas Samaras', Artforum, vol. 5, no. 2, October 1966, pp.39-44, p.43.
- Dr Joan C. Siegfried, 'On Peering into Lucas Samaras' Boxes', in Lucas Samaras Boxes, Chicago: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1971 (exhibition catalogue), n.p.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010