Dazzling with its extraordinary jewel-like colors and carefully crafted details, Box #102 is a remarkable example of the unique box works that first bought American-Greek artist Lucas Samaras to critical acclaim. A legendary, elusive presence on the New York art scene, the self-described urban-hermit has consistently embraced unusual media to create works that are provocative, beguiling and always highly inventive. In Samaras hands a box becomes a thing of wonder, familiar in shape and function but fiercely unique, bristling with intricately arranged fragments of quotidian objects transformed into extravagant decorative flourishes. Pins swarm over its outer surface in a metallic haze, and when opened, the box reveals its strange treasure: an array of rainbow colored pencils and a fragment of an anatomical drawing lie surrounded by the same swirling geometric pattern that flows over its exterior. Like a poisonous creature, it is tempting to touch, and yet its layer of pins, its alien identity and its vivid coloration warn us against doing so. It is this dichotomy between the senses that Samaras is striving for: You are supposed to feel a dazzle. And then you say, Ooh, I cant touch it (L. Samaras, quoted in Pierre Alexandre de Looz Samaras: Filthy Artist, Not a Prince, 032c, Winter 2009/10, p. 114).
Samaras started to make boxes similar to Box #102 in the early 1960s, using found materials and objects that ranged from the menacing to the sensuous. Pins, razor blades, hair, tacks, thread and glass all feature in intricate patterns, often encircling self-portraits or drawings, and always spectacularly colorful. Handcrafted with a technical fastidiousness, these boxes are among Samaras best-loved works. Collected by museums and fellow artists alike (Donald Judd purportedly had one of Samaras boxes by his bedside at 101 Spring Street), they exist in museum collections across the world, including the Tate Gallery, London, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, where Samaras currently has an exhibition on view: Lucas Samaras: Offerings from a Restless Soul.
Although embracing postmodern techniques of manipulating and assembling found objects and imagery, much of the stimulus for Samaras work is derived from his childhood. His father was a shoemaker and he spent much of his time with his two aunts who were seamstresses, and he works not only with their toolspins and threadbut with a craftsmans eye for detail. The pin is to an extent a part of the family (L. Samaras, quoted at http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/samaras-box-t07186, accessed 18 March 2014), he has said. Growing up in a household of women, privacy was always hugely valuable to him, and these boxes can be seen as manifestations of private spaces; intimate stages where miniature identities could be conjured. With their playful decoration, and confusing blend of sharp and soft materials, the boxes maintain the allure of something mysterious and restricted, harboring secret treasure that can never be touched. Samaras has said, this force to touch or not touch, destroy or caress, has always been with me ( Ibid.).