Robert Beck/Robert Buck: Collected Works

rennie collection is proud to present the first Canadian exhibition of American artist Robert Beck/Robert Buck from March 2 to June 8, 2013. A catalogue will accompany the exhibition, with an essay by James Voorhies.

The Shrine (from e to u), 2000/2012
flowers, candles, stuffed animals, balloons, thrift store artifacts, etc.

In 2008, Robert Beck changed his surname by a single vowel to Buck. This act of artistic self-nomination, a work of art itself, was precipitated by what he had achieved through his work as Beck, which was often autobiographical in content and persistently diverse in form. As an alias, Buck appealed to the artist for its precision and associations: stag, son, cash, to throw off. To substantiate this artistic transfiguration, Buck created the shrine (from e to u), 2012, a makeshift memorial of candles, flowers, and stuffed animals. The transitory work, susceptible to entropy and the elements, provocatively re-frames the now-common practice in which a community marks the site of a violent event, a fatality or loss, as a place of collective mourning.

Thirteen Shooters, 2001
13 inkjet pigment prints

Working in various mediums (drawing, sculpture, photography, and video) the artist utilizes many artistic procedures, including appropriation and installation. He has returned repeatedly to the universal themes of family, memory, identity, authorship, and loss. While his own singular experiences are central, Beck wittingly withholds information to solicit the viewer’s own unique associations. Buck has described his work as a way to “create an index by which I could make sense of earlier, often traumatic experiences […] so to transcend them. Evidence of this riddles my work: bodies, holes, camouflage, mimicry, memorials, erasure, guilt, corruption, sex, and death – even my own! And so much of it is haunted by the presence (or is it the absence) of the Father.” Beyond his own father, Buck is referring to the Name-of-the-Father, a psychoanalytic term, by way of the Christian church, that designates one’s given name, as well as the symbolic order of things. 

Several works by Beck are again relevant in the wake of recent shootings in the United States, notably at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and the Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. The thirteen images of teen shooters in Beck’s Thirteen Shooters, 2001, made for a show at the Queens Museum in 2001, echo Andy Warhol’s mural Thirteen Most Wanted Men, which was exhibited at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. In 2004, Beck fired a 12-gauge shotgun into three 25-lb buckets of mortician’s wax to create 01/25/04 ‐ Shots No. 12, 13, 14. Traces of a violent event, the resulting holes in the wax evoke an injured body, yet the “wound filler” substance also implies its repair. The work exemplifies Beck’s ability to exploit the meaning inherent in materials, and suggests why his work evolves from one medium to another.

Beck’s scrutiny of violence in American culture extends beyond its effects to its causes, and thus envelopes private realms like home and family. The title Screen Memory, 2004, a series of five silver-gelatin photographs taken in Beck’s childhood home, refers to Sigmund Freud’s 1899 essay concerning the paradox of childhood memory, wherein consequential, often traumatic events are not retained, while trivial ones are.

Robert Buck lives and works in New York City and the deserts of the American Southwest. His work has been widely exhibited, including exhibitions at the Whitney, New York; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus; CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco; Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati; and Cleveland Museum. Buck’s work is represented by CRG Gallery, New York City, and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.

rennie collection, one of the largest collections of contemporary art in Canada, has evolved over a number of years to focus on works related to identity, social injustice, appropriation, painting and photography. In 2009, renovations were completed on the oldest building in Vancouver’s Chinatown to display the collection to the public. rennie collection at Wing Sang holds two exhibitions a year with supporting catalogues and events.