Tableau: A Conversation

— Lita Talarico + Steven Heller,
Co-Chairs, School of Visual Arts, MFA Design

Who among us has not made a tableau? We all do it! We love doing it! We all compose objects that we live with (and live with us) in delightful, sometimes symbolic, curiously harmonious arrangements. Whether we know it or not, we are making tableaux.
Using props to express a narrative — personal or otherwise — is one of the few ways we inject art and aesthetics into our daily lives. Even the simplest decisions we make juxtaposing one object against another or one color next to another, on any surface — from breakfront to dresser to desk — derives from a sublimely creative impulse. This book is about one artist’s tableaux and the many integral connections she has intuitively at times and deliberately at others discovered by combining and positioning valued artifacts.
Deborah Buck makes art — she paints and draws; she also makes environments with her art and others’ objects. She calls them conversations. Her tableaux are installations, not in the museum sense of didactic suspended animation, instead they are transitory monuments — moments in which form and color are woven into a temporal story, a tale of passions and obsessions expressed through things.
How are they made? A tableau assemblage is not unlike sketching a painting, in both cases the end product can be predictable or surprising. While the most enjoyable response is surprise, deliberate control of the artifacts also fosters pleasure and delight. Buck’s tableaux are physical presences, but also memories. Like a still life painting these tableau are exercises in form and process. Buck experiments by marrying disparate elements as she controls her surround. Capturing the verisimilitude of the real had long been the painters’ primary occupation, but Buck’s objects are real so the tableaux are meant to be surreal.
Are these tableaux decorative? In one way they are. On the surface they certainly become a means of creating the decorative experience: but on second look, they have many layers and revelations are found but not always at first glance. The stories may not be exactly linear, but they have the fundamental attributes of narrative nonetheless.
This book, therefore, might be viewed as a collection of short stories, each tableau its own tale. Each object is one of a kind. Each plot line is different, and each conversation is unique.