Lucas SAMARAS | Box no. 85

Greece 1936
United States of America 1948

Box no. 85 1973
pins and stones on cardboard
not signed, not dated
27.1 (h) x 44.8 (w) x 28.6 (d) cm
Purchased 1981
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 1981.3049
© Lucas Samaras, Courtesy Pace Wildenstein


 The box is a form often used by Dada and Surrealist artists. By virtue of being opened or closed, boxes imply a sense of progression or narrative, ideas of discovery, hidden taboos, even absence or completion. Boxes can be containers for dreams and magical ideas, minute stages on which a drama can be played out. Lucas Samaras’s boxes are embellished with everyday objects that are made unusual by their combinations and juxtapositions. Their complex psychological invention is built from accumulation and implication.

Samaras often uses coloured stones in his boxes. Brightly coloured and seemingly innocuous, they are the sorts of things that one might typically find in a fish tank or in children’s craft activities. They give his boxes a heavily encrusted feel and a jewel-like quality, a richness which is both sensuous and kitsch. This bricolage appeals to the collector—or hoarder—in us all. Samaras’s use of pins is, however, particularly his own. Like most of his ‘stuff’, these materials have a biographical element and the artist has remarked that ‘the pin is to an extent a part of the family’. A pin is both a dot and line. Pins en masse form a network which is three-dimensional and create an illusion of density larger than the volume itself. Samaras’s use of pins can also be threatening.

Box no 85 is a perverse thing, both attractive and repellent, visually seductive and implicitly violent. From afar it looks cute, soft and rather fluffy. Its scale suggests an object which invites touch: it might be picked up, held and even embraced. But the pins, and the fact of its being partially opened, mean that the viewer is kept at a distance. Is this a trap? This is an object which not only complicates the Platonic ideal of beauty, but has us question the nature of materials.

Lucina Ward
International Painting and Sculpture
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra