JTF (just the facts): A total of 13 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung in the single room gallery space in the back. All of the works are chromogenic prints, made in 2011. The prints come in two sizes: 20×24 (in editions of 10) and 42×50 (in editions of 1, accompanied by an original signed witness testimony). There are 12 images in the small size and 1 image in the large size on display. A monograph of this body of work has recently been published by Kehrer Verlag (here). (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: In our celebrity crazed culture, we have been trained to wait obsessively for images of our favorite bold faced stars and froth at the mouth with frenzy over outrageous pictures of the famous and important. As a result, a veritable army of talented and creative celebrity photographers has sprung up, continually pushing the edge of the visual envelope in the name of ever increasing publicity and promotion. This is what makes Chris Buck’s Presence project so unexpected. The big name celebrities are here all right, but they’re hiding from view, leaving us with empty rooms and vacant spaces, a sly conceptual middle finger raised to the audience.
My first, and admittedly infantile reaction to these pictures was to try to break the code, to locate the place where in the bathroom where Robert de Niro was concealed or to figure out how Jay Leno hid behind his car in the parking lot, my brain still wired to maniacally search for the star, to hit the button for the endorphin reward. As I circled the gallery and frustration gave way to failure, I began to see the real power of the images. We subconsciously attribute value to places graced by the presence of celebrities, going all the way back to the George Washington slept here phenomenon. Somehow David Lynch’s back yard, John Hamm’s cinder block parking space, or David Byrne’s office (complete with a flat packed Big Suit) seems full of some kind of special essence; we care more about a hotel foyer because Russell Brand is hiding there or are suddenly more interested in a striped shower curtain because Weird Al Yankovic is standing behind it. This is, of course, completely crazy, and yet, the weird aura effect remains – we absolutely see these places differently. The photographs are therefore both of the celebrities and not, simultaneously pictures of their obvious absence and their lingering influence.
I think Buck’s inversions are clever and will likely be durably insightful; I can certainly imagine a big museum exhibit of celebrity portraiture ending with one of Buck’s images, deftly pulling the rug out from under the previously contented viewers. It’s a great example of photographing the unphotographable, exposing the quirky passions and fixations that lurk in our minds.
Collector’s POV: The prints in the show are priced based on size. The 20×24 prints are $2500 each and the 42×50 prints are $5000 each. Buck’s work has little secondary mark history, so gallery retail remains the best/only option for those collectors interested in following up.