‘Centurion’ Brian Ulrich

The title ‘Centurion’ refers to an urban legend of the 1980s that became a reality in 1999. The legend held that American Express issued, by invitation only, a special charge card to ultra-wealthy individuals, who could use it to purchase anything and everything that they wanted, from private planes to private islands—as long as they did not disclose the existence of the card. The company fielded hundreds of calls from people requesting to be considered for the card. Articles were written claiming that the card truly existed (one such article appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 1988), while others were written debunking the claim. Finally, in 1999, American Express launched the Centurion, an actual charge card program with features and benefits resembling those attributed to the elusive 1980s version.
An artist drawn to exploring the visual landscape of America’s consumption economy, Ulrich has spent the last several years photographing sites and people associated with extreme wealth. The allure of material abundance is among the most powerful forces driving contemporary culture, and it permeates contemporary advertising and popular culture. This, despite the old saw (and solid evidence) that money cannot buy happiness, is the contradiction powering the myth that resulted in the reality of the Centurion. Publishing date: Autumn 2021