Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Kate Nicholson reviews John Buck at Robischon Gallery in Denver.
John Buck’s colossal kinetic sculptures draw passersby into Robischon Gallery, including families who might be otherwise unlikely to enter an art exhibition. One Saturday, I watched the wonder on a child’s face when he powered the switch to animate a resting sculpture—Buck’s largest sculpture, The Immigration (2016). As the hand-carved jelutong wood sculpture came to life, the sounds of the gears squeaking and wood clanking echoed through the gallery. Carved busts of political figures, from Donald Trump to Barack Obama, and Chairman Mao to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., bobbed across a bridge flanked by Blind Justice and Lady Liberty, both encaged. Buck harnesses the power of spectacle that can equally delight a child and seduce a voter, inviting a serious critique of American politics.
Buck’s work, which includes kinetic and still figurative sculptures, wall reliefs, and woodblock prints, involves a dizzying pageantry of iconic and allegorical figures that reflects the daily news cycle and mass media, but he does so without pomp and circumstance. His materials are as simple and unvarnished as his vision is dystopian. Today’s political consumer may simultaneously be entertained and disempowered, like a child playing with wooden blocks in view of the big show, but Buck demands more of his audience. By audibly and visibly revealing the inner workings of his sculptures, Buck invokes curiosity. By layering references from different historical periods throughout his work, he provides needed context. By interposing despots and heroes with artists whose vision challenged the sinister trends of their times, Buck elevates the conversation.
Buck’s sculptures achieve harmony through opposition in the same way that conflicting political parties find a semblance of balance. In Potomac Waltz (2016), paired oppositional figures, such as Richard Nixon with Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt with Dwight D. Eisenhower, awkwardly dance beneath the dome of the U.S. Capitol, on a carousel whose relentless cycle is underscored by a juke box playing an old 45. There is intricacy, beauty, and simplicity, but the equilibrium garnered is unrefined, loud, and comedic. Everything falls into place roughly—America is hard, diverse, full of high ideals and grubbing avarice. Buck’s exhibition exposes the carnival of American politics in its fun-house muck and glory.
John Buck will be on view through December 17, 2016.
Kate Nicholson is an arts enthusiast and writer currently living in Boulder, Colorado.