The Lens Boxes

Mary Bauermeister’s lens boxes were the result of her chance find of optical lenses at an antique store in a Dutch village in 1961.  Described by the artist as “a multi-dimensional circumscribbling of my interpretation of life” and filled with natural and found objects, drawings, and words, the lens boxes developed into her signature work during her decade in the U.S. 

The lens boxes were first created in a horizontal format, to be viewed from above, with lenses within the box as well as on top of the glass so that viewers could manipulate them (see illustration). When Bauermeister first showed her boxes at the Bonino gallery on West 57th Street, visitors began to pocket the movable lenses as souvenirs.  In response, she glued the lenses, which allowed the boxes to be shown upright on the wall, as three-dimensional, multi-layered pictures.

In the first half of the sixties, Bauermeister used a basic palette of black and white for the boxes.  They became more colorful in the second half of the sixties, and toward the end of the decade she even worked with fluorescent colors.



Image:  At the opening of Bauermeister’s first exhibition at Galeria Bonino, guests move magnifying glasses and lenses on the surface of the artist’s first lens box.  Photo: Kerstin Skrobanek Archive