Looking Back: Lucas Samaras's Mirrored Room

A Guide

Installation view of Looking Back: Lucas Samaras's Mirrored Room (June 12, 2023–January 2, 2024) in the M&T Bank Gallery of the Seymour H. Knox Building. Photo: Brenda Bieger for Buffalo AKG Art Museum

M&T Bank Gallery
Seymour H. Knox Building
June 12, 2023–January 2, 2024

Lucas Samaras was born in Macedonia, Greece, in 1936 and immigrated to the United States in 1948. He studied at Rutgers University under artists such as Allan Kaprow (American, 1927–2006) and George Segal (American, 1924–2000). Later, while studying art history at Columbia University with Meyer Schapiro, a scholar known for emphasizing the social context of art, Samaras started creating self-portraits and exploring the relationship of his work to his identity. In the 1950s and 1960s, his involvement with Happenings—combinations of performance, theater, and visual art—would shape his evolving approach to sculpture. Before he made the Mirrored Room, the sculptural installation at the heart of Looking Back, Samaras had already become interested in using boxes as the basis of his sculptures, many of which he encrusted with found elements. Items such as yarn, bones, fake hair, and taxidermied birds—atypical for the art of the time—spoke to Samaras’s life. The silver paint and tin foil he used in the early works developed into mirror. Inherently autobiographical, the mirrored surface 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 in 1963 while writing a short story 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 (now the Buffalo AKG), Samaras explained that mirrors had long fascinated him for their playfulness, their religious and psychological implications, their use in other artworks, in fairy tales and myths, and in palaces. Describing the experience of being inside the Mirrored Room, 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.

Embracing this perplexing and disorienting experience, Samaras offers visitors an opportunity to lose themselves, to question their sense of reality, and to see their identities fractured and multiplied endlessly.

Tens of thousands of people have enjoyed the absorbing experience of Lucas Samaras’s Mirrored Room since the museum acquired it in 1966, the same year it was made. This sculptural installation has become one of the most beloved works in the Buffalo AKG’s collection. 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 gallery, 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 experience it.

This exhibition also includes a video booth, community reflection wall, and mural highlighting decades of photographic engagements with the Mirrored Room. It is a tribute to our public’s dialogue with this artwork, while we continue the conversation in the context of our expanded campus. We invite you to participate and reflect with us.

Looking Back: Lucas Samaras's Mirrored Room is curated by Associate Curator Andrea Alvarez.

Three photos from different eras show people interacting with the Mirrored Room in different ways
Images of the Mirrored Room through the decades convey the shifts in photographic technologies, clothing styles, and even gallery installation conditions that the work has witnessed. The Mirrored Room responds to the space it inhabits, and one’s impression of the work might shift based on its setting, the warmth or coolness of the gallery light, and brightness of the interior room. This artwork is best appreciated when people are reflected in it. From first-time visitors to lifetime museum members, our community always sees itself in the Mirrored Room. Images courtesy of the Buffalo AKG Digital Assets Collection and Archives.


Exhibition Sponsors

Looking Back: Lucas Samaras’s Mirrored Room is presented by M&T Bank. 



Installation and technical services are generously supported by Advantage Technology Integration.

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The Buffalo AKG’s exhibition program is generously supported by The Seymour H. Knox Foundation, Inc.