Lucas Samaras Plays Hard to Get
American artist Lucas Samaras is representing his native Greece at this year’s Biennale. In this intimate interview with his longtime art dealer Arne Glimcher, Samaras discusses why he doesn’t want to go to Venice, getting famous artists to pose nude for him, and what he’s working on next.
In 1963, I moved the Pace gallery from Boston to New York and shortly thereafter, in 1966, Lucas Samaras became affiliated with us. Over the years, we have presented 30 shows and each time Samaras, the chameleon, reinvents himself. Just before leaving for Venice to attend the 53rd Biennale—where Samaras will represent his native Greece in Paraxena, a show of videos, photographs, and one of his signature mirrored structures—we spoke on the telephone.
Lucas Samaras: I can’t hear you.
“As I get older, I put more focus in my work, I’m more protective of it, even of the making it, and then I get more insulted if somebody doesn’t react.”
Arne Glimcher: You can’t hear me—are you deaf?
Not yet. Plug your machine somewhere in your office.
I’m going to plug it into you.
I have no orifices for your needs.
You have no orifices? I think you have orifices all over the place or else how could you have done what you’ve done? Come to Venice….
...he said, pleadingly.
No, I’m not. My back is awful.
I think that’s bullshit. You should have an injection up your back. Come to Venice. I’ll give you anything you want.
I’ll give you candy.
I’m allergic to candy.
I’ll give you a massage.
I’m not a cheap fuck.
Woooo. I thought you were. What would you like? How could I get you to come to Venice?
I’m not coming. You can send…
The French Foreign Legion?
No, a video setup. But I’m not coming.
Would you do a live video?
Live, that’s what I mean.
Oh boy, that would be better than having you.
Because we could turn you off when ever we wanted to.
And I won’t have to touch anybody.
Aha! So are you afraid of germs?
I’m afraid of obligatory smiles and ensuing boredom.
I need you there.
It’s time you started exposing your foibles. Have you read [the memoir of former Metropolitan Museum director Thomas] Hoving in Artnet?
I think he’s terrific. You know, he’s despicable but his autobiography’s fantastic.
Oh, well, sometimes a despicable character is fantastic.
He wrote about your friend Georges Wildenstein.
What did he write?
I’ll read a short paragraph.
No, we’re doing an interview here on the telephone.
When he was young and upcoming, he went for an interview, you know to maybe get a job. And he set up a beautiful little scene for that meeting.
Did he like him or not like him?
I think you have to read it.
OK, I’ll read it. What else are you reading?
Well, I’m also reading a Greek journalist, Michael Skafidas, who came to interview me, as he had come years before. I didn’t want to do any interviews, but I like him. I thought he was killed when the towers fell, because he was living downtown .
But then, I found out that he was OK. Anyway, he did a nice interview for a major Greek newspaper.
You know you never let anyone in. If you let more people in, you might find some interesting people, but you keep everybody out. It’s very hard staying in your life.
The same thing happened with you. There was a time, 10, 15 years ago, when you had parties maybe three or four times a week. You had dinners, blah, blah, blah. Then all of that stopped. I think everybody goes through that, after-college dinners and stuff, and then 20 years later you wonder… is that all there is, Peggy Lee?
So you don’t want to see anybody.
You have been going through a similar thing, have you not? You’re bored.
I’m not bored because catastrophes continue to happen that need to be solved. So it keeps me from being bored. Sometimes I’m bored, but I don’t feel like doing parties three or four nights a week.
And dinners—there aren’t enough people that I want to talk to, but I still let more people in by accident. You’re so removed in your 62nd floor.
We have a slightly different way of how we behave with rejection.
Yeah. Well, everything is a rejection to you.
How do you translate a rejection? Do you suffer away somewhere exotic or do you say no, that’s not a rejection, nobody’s rejecting me. I’m too good, blah, blah, blah, how do you react?
Well, yeah, I think no one’s rejecting me. I’m too good, but when I have a rejection in writing, something I’ve done in the press or a review in the gallery, it ruins my day at least.
Just a day?
It could ruin my weekend. But I’m out there with a much more complicated interpersonal life than you are. Everything to you looms much larger than it does to me or most people because you’ve confined yourself to this tiny environment. You let very few people come in. When you go out, you’re out yourself with your camera, you’re not really interacting. You’re an observer, and it’s a different life and you get more and more hermetic.
As I get older, I put more focus in my work, I’m more protective of it, even of the making it, and then I get more insulted if somebody doesn’t react. So I can spend days and weeks and years, and then I expect too much from any visitor.
I can understand that. And if a visitor cancels on you, it’s a major insult.
It’s like a death in the family. You start off wanting one, two, three things. Then you get to a certain point, and you say, 'Gee, I don’t necessarily want that.' I mean, I tried it and it didn’t quite work. And then it’s something else, well, I’m not sure that I want that either. So you remove a lot of stuff from the list that you lusted for. You know, just get the fuck out of here. So then, if you’re lucky you focus on work that provides small inventions and temporary daily euphorias.
What are you working on now?
I just finished working on your face and now I’m looking at [your son] Marc’s face.
Oh, I was going to ask you. You want to be my pimp again?
Send a couple heads.
Who do you want?
Why don’t you invite some of the people you’ve pimped for me before. Claes [Oldenburg], Chuck [Close], and Jasper [Johns]....
And maybe, what about Guy [Wildenstein]?
He won’t take his clothes off.
It’s just the head.
Right. All right, I will pimp for you.
Better than party chitchat. You can’t imagine how thrilling it is to be able to change the faces a little bit, with shadow and color and personal drama and take away some zits or fat that don’t contribute to my aesthetic—you know what I mean?
I’m sure everyone appreciates that.
To paraphrase some ancient smartass, I goose up God’s mistakes.
Click Image Below to View our Gallery
Xtra Insight: Read Paul Laster On Lucas Samaras' Striptease Film
Arne Glimcher is the founder and chairman of the PaceWildenstein art gallery. He is also a published author, and a film producer and director, whose pictures include The Mambo Kings, Gorillas in the Mist, and Picasso & Braque Go to the Movies.