Buck Ellison – Country Day
by Ryan Linkof
Something profoundly, even troublingly, hygienic resides at the center of Buck Ellison’s photographs. With an idiosyncratic deadpan, Ellison offers a vision of health- and wealth-conscious upper-middle-class white people in America. Raised in one of its key centers of cultivation – Marin County just north of San Francisco – Ellison knows this world from the inside out. His work functions like a mirror directed not just at the social world in which he was reared, but also for the privileged art consumer that is his presumed audience. Yet unlike Tina Barney, whose photographs of East Coast WASPs are an evident influence on Ellison’s work, Ellison keeps a critical distance from his subject. His project is not documentary or even particularly sympathetic, but rather curious and clinical, with a touch of satire. The bodies in Buck Ellison’s photographs are clean, manicured, and well-nourished, but for all of this orderly ordinariness, Ellison seems to hint that there is something askew in white America.
The title of the exhibition – Country Day – recalls the longer history of the strange alliance between the pastoral idyll, Progressive Era politics, and white flight. Developed outside of the crime and pollution of major American cities at the end of the nineteenth century, Country Day Schools offered parents a salubrious – and salubriously Anglo – alternative to the hoi polloi of the inner city education system. Ellison’s use of the term is appropriately historical as well as pressingly contemporary – he is keenly aware of the anxieties that sent upper-middle-class families fleeing from American cities a century ago. The lipstick red exhibition poster crystallizes this idea through a litany of word pairings: “arts emphasis,” “cold pressed,” “family foundation,” “individualized study,” “living trust,” “small plates,” and as an appropriate end cap, “water birth.” These recognizable phrases poached from parenting manuals and farm-to-table restaurant menus connote admirable and ethically responsible lifestyle choices. At the same time, they are the keywords of a social class, used as badges of taste and cultivation.
At its core, the project interrogates a social world that has absorbed the promise of self-actualization through consumer practices. His subjects have embraced the allure of responsible “curated” lifestyle choices that offer individual as well as ecological betterment. Whether snacking on hummus or gleefully embarking on a year of university study in a presumably exotic and underdeveloped country, these beautiful young people represent a curious hybrid of capitalist fantasy and liberal politics.
Ryan Linkof is assistant curator in the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), where he has worked since receiving his PhD from the University of Southern California in 2011. He has organized several exhibitions at LACMA, including Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ, The Sun and Other Stars: Katy Grannan and Charlie White, John Divola: As Far as I Could Get, and Catherine Opie: O. His scholarly research has appeared in the journals Photography and Culture, Études photographiques, and Media History, and he is a contributing author to several volumes, including the forthcoming Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs (Getty Publications, 2016).
Buck Ellison (b. 1987) lives and works in Berlin and Los Angeles. He received his Meisterschüler from the Städelschule, Frankfurt in 2014 and B.A. from Columbia University, New York in 2010. Recent exhibitions include Misanthrope-NY, Mathew Gallery, New York, The Social Register, Park View, Los Angeles, Villa Aurora Revisited, Galerie Balice Hertling, New York, and Zitronenblätter, Villa Aurora, Los Angeles (all 2015).
Opening: Sunday, 29 November 2015, 2 pm Exhibition: 29 November to 28 March 2016
Untitled (Hands), Editions 1, 2 and 3, Artist’s Prints 1 and 2, Exhibition Prints 1 and 2, 2009; Sunset, 2015
Buck Ellison, »Country Day«
published by Edition kunstwegen, Städtische Galerie Nordhorn
60 pages with 43 coloured illustrations. Text in English.
The artist’s book is on sale at the ticket office of Bentheim Castle or may be ordered at Städtische Galerie Nordhorn (www.staedtische-galerie.nordhorn.de).