News Column

The mirrors are back at the Albright-Knox

June 23, 2014

By Andra Cernavskis, The Buffalo News, N.Y.



June 23--The room is small with just a table and chair. Light bounces every which way and a green hue is omnipresent. There are dozens of people in the 8-foot-by-8-foot enclosed space, and they are all you.

Western New Yorkers are now able to have this long-awaited experience once again. Lucas Samaras' "Room No. 2," popularly known as the "Mirrored Room," is back on display at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery after a nearly five-year hiatus.

From 2009 to 2010, the large, cubical room was on loan to the Pace Gallery in New York City. After that, it was back in Buffalo in storage until now.

"We get quite a few requests for it when it's not up, and we thought it was time," said Maria Scully-Morreale, leader of public relations and marketing at Albright-Knox.

Scully-Morreale said that the museum has so much art that it cannot have everything on view at once. Rather, it must rotate pieces in and out.

Holly Hughes, a curator at Albright-Knox, said that the 160-mirror tiled room cannot always be on display because of preservation purposes.

"People walk on it and such, and we want it to be in good enough condition for many generations to be able to enjoy it," she said.

Hughes has a particularly special relationship with the piece. As a native of Buffalo, she fondly remembers many school trips to the museum when she was young. The small room covered with mirrors both inside and out was always a favorite stop.

"My young brain would work really hard to try and figure out how it all worked," she said. "It was such a fixture here."

Ron Moscati, a former Buffalo News photographer, remembered how difficult it was to take a photo for the grand opening of the piece in 1966. The Buffalo Courrier-Express sent him out on the assignment that December.

"I thought it was amazing when I first went into it. I wondered how I was going to find the best angle in it because it was the same every which way you did it," Moscati said.

He used a Nikon F 35 mm camera to take that photo and still has the negatives from the shoot. The one the Courrier-Express ended up publishing on its cover in 1966 was a shot Moscati took while pointing his camera downward.

On Friday, Moscati went back to the Albright-Knox to re-create the photo he took before the original opening. The task proved just as difficult as it had back then.

The "Mirror Room" was inspired by a short story, "Killman," in which a man lives in a house made of mirrors. Samaras had made another room of mirrors in 1964 titled "Room No. 1." It was a re-creation of his bedroom, according to Hughes, and was on display at the Green Gallery in Milwaukee until it was later destroyed.

Buffalo's "Mirrored Room" has seen better days. The floors are marked up and no longer as pristine as they had once been. Upon entering the space, it's easy to understand the need for preservation.

To celebrate its return, the Albright-Knox made the theme of its annual fundraiser "Mirror Mirror," which played off the idea of a carnival fun house. Guests were allowed to enter the "Mirror Room" for the first time since its reconstruction during that event on Friday. It was then open to all gallery-goers on Saturday.

Despite being created in the 1960s, the "Mirrored Room" might be even more relevant now than ever before. It takes the notion of a "selfie" to another level. As Hughes is quick to point out, artists have been doing self-portraits for hundreds of years. The artist, Lucas Samaras, was recently deemed "the father of the selfie" by the Huffington Post. In an interview with the site, Samaras, now 77, discussed how he feels about this new craze.

"What is going on now is considered raw and therefore of interest to analyze. That diminishes the value of self-portraiture, especially when someone decides to see the difference between the professional and the non-professional, which is mostly junk," Samaras said. "Many people have stopped searching for an intelligent, intellectual criticism. The selfie mentality demonstrates a very aggressive behavior. It's like going to a museum and saying : 'Screw the Rembrandt.' "

Now that so many people have cameras on their phones, we should expect to see a lot of selfies, perhaps like the one Moscati took nearly 50 years ago, of people in the "Mirrored Room" being posted to Instagram and Facebook. But this can only happen through Nov. 16, when the beloved piece will be disassembled and put back into storage once again.

Samaras' room is also part of an exhibition titled "Lucas Samaras: Reflections" that gives museum visitors context around the work and its history at the Albright-Knox.

email: acernavskis@buffnews.com

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(c)2014 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)

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