Lucas Samaras, Chair Transformation Number 12, 1969–70. Synthetic polymer on wood, 41 1/2 × 36 × 13 in. (105.4 × 91.4 × 33 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Howard and Jean Lipman Foundation Inc. 70.1573
NARRATOR: Artist Lucas Samaras grew up in Greece during the Second World War, making toys from whatever he could get his hands on. In 1969, after moving to New York with his family and attending art school, he started a series of works called Chair Transformation. In his statement from that time, he attributes the work to dozens of different influences. He notes that his last name, Samaras, means “saddlemaker” in his native Greece. He recalls a Rauschenberg collage wherein the artist attached an actual chair to a painting. He references chairs seen in movies, proverbial chairs—like the hot seat—and games of musical chairs. All of his references have in common one thing; all appeal, in some sense, to a common idea of what a chair is. And here Samaras complicates our understanding of that idea. Is it a chair if you can’t sit in it? Is it a chair if it is also a sculpture on display in a museum? The chairs are also a riff on the history of art itself; one parodies pointillism, while another, with it’s hard edges mimics Minimalism; a third is half-consumed by strands of yarn that act like a sort of visual pun on the dense drips and splatters of artists like Jackson Pollock. From the single concept of a chair, Samaras evolves a cacophony of different styles and materials that is perverse and witty at the same time.