Stripping in Venice

In his provocative film now playing in the Greek pavilion at the Biennale, Lucas Samaras does a striptease for his art-world friends, including Chuck Close and Jasper Johns. Paul Laster takes a peek.

The centerpiece of his exhibition Paraxena in the Greek Pavilion in Venice, Lucas Samaras' video installation Ecdysiast and Viewers is a curious work of art. Continuing his fascination with narcissism and voyeurism, the 5½-minute presents 24 iMovie films of individuals recorded as they respond to the iMovie film Ecdysiast (a term supposedly coined by H.L. Mencken to describe Gypsy Rose Lee) that shows a distorted view of Samaras stripping.

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Riffing on his 1978-81 series Sittings, in which Samaras posed fully clothed with his naked art-world friends (Jasper Johns, Chuck Close, and others) in his studio, Ecdysiast and Viewers captures Close, Claes Oldenburg, Artforum editor Tim Griffin, his longtime art dealer Arne Glimcher, and a cast of other creative characters in the act of evaluating Samaras' performance and thus his artwork.

Ecdysiast and Viewers, which was first seen in Samaras’ 2006 solo exhibition iMovies at PaceWildenstein in New York, was acquired for the permanent collection by the Museum of Modern Art in 2007. Reviewing the exhibition for Artnet, critic and art historian Donald Kuspit cleverly commented on Samaras’ striptease by stating “…he doesn’t just strip naked, he changes form—a not unfamiliar tactic in his art—until he finally becomes, if not exactly Kafka’s bug, a sort of bloated roly-poly, or, if one wants, an oversized baby, grotesque but lovable.”

The viewers of Samaras’ exotic dance express unease, perplexity, and amusement, but perhaps the response that the artist/stripper coveted most was artist Coosje van Bruggen’s absolute delight, which brought her to applause—a reaction many art viewers now share in celebrating Lucas Samaras’ recognition from his Greek homeland by exhibiting his work in its Venice Biennale pavilion.

Xtra Insight: Read Arne Glimcher's Interview With Lucas Samaras

Paul Laster is the editor of, a contributing editor at and Art Asia Pacific, and a contributing writer at Time Out New York and Art in America.