Seymour H. Knox Building
Tens of thousands of visitors have enjoyed the absorbing experience of Lucas Samaras’s Mirrored Room, ever since the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (now the Buffalo AKG Art Museum) acquired it in 1966, the same year it was made. This sculptural installation, a room covered entirely in mirrors into which viewers can enter, has become one of the most beloved works in the Buffalo AKG’s collection and is the centerpiece of Looking Back: Lucas Samaras’s Mirrored Room. As a central feature of the freely accessible Seymour H. Knox Building, this installation celebrates the way our community has seen itself reflected—literally and figuratively—in the museum. Archival and community-generated imagery populate the walls of the exhibition space, highlighting the creative ways our public has engaged with the work over the past half century. Photos from the 1960s to the present day mark the passage of time through notable shifts in photographic technologies and clothing choices, but one constant is the enthusiasm and fascination for the artwork visible on the faces of the people who see it.
Lucas Samaras was born in Greece in 1936 and immigrated to the United States in 1948. In his twenties and thirties, he began working with artists such as Allan Kaprow (American, 1927–2006) and Jim Dine (American, born 1935), Pop artists associated with Happenings. Samaras’s early involvement with these combinations of performance, theater, and visual art would shape his evolving approach to sculpture.
Before he made the Mirrored Room, on view in this gallery, he had already become interested in using boxes and other common forms as the basis of his sculptures, many of which he encrusted with found, autobiographical materials such as yarn, needles, and hair. His use of mirrors marked a further development in his sculptural practice. Fundamentally autobiographical, it innately bears the image of not only the maker but also everyone who sees and experiences or inhabits the work. Samaras arrived at the idea of a literal mirrored room while writing a short story in 1963 in which the character lived in a mirrored house. In a 1968 letter to a curator of what was then the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Samaras explained that mirrors had long fascinated him for their playfulness, their religious and psychological implications, and their use in other artworks, in fairy tales, myths, and in palaces. He writes,
“Being [embedded] in this huge [crystalline] structure that has no top, bottom, or sides, this feeling of suspension, this feeling of polite claustrophobia or acrophobia, this feeling of fakery or loneliness seems complex, associatively enveloping and valid to me as a work of art, wonder, sensuality, pessimistic theory and partial invisibility.”