David Benjamin Sherry, Astral Desert @Salon 94 Bowery and Freemans

JTF (just the facts): A two-part show, split between the Bowery and Freemans Alley gallery spaces. The Bowery show consists of 13 large scale color photographs, framed in white and unmatted; a few are hiding in back offices. All of the works are chromogenic prints from 2012, sized either 30×40 (in editions of 3), 48×58 (in editions of 2) or 60×72 (in editions of 1). The Freemans show consists of 15 unique works (framed in white and unmatted): 7 chromogenic photograms and 8 chromogenic prints covered in adhesive, sand and colored pigment. The photograms are each sized 30×40, while the sand images are sized either 20×24, 40×50, 48×58, or 60×72 (or reverse). All of these works are also from 2012. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: David Benjamin Sherry’s use of vibrant, electric color is much more than a simple love affair with oversaturation. His monochrome images jump off the wall in a rainbow of Easter egg hues, as though they were recently dipped in pure bowls of food coloring, taking on uniform tints of plum and tangerine, ice blue and mint. His palette is strikingly bold, almost overpowering in its sunny, jelly bean brightness.

In the Bowery space, Sherry has applied this audacious color to tightly cropped, skyless images of American desert dirt and rock formations, turning jumbles of stones, gully washes and smooth erosions into otherworldly landscapes in crimson and acidic lime green. Craggy patterns of swirls and lines, pits and deformations become almost abstract when swimming in such unexpected incandescent color. Each one is like a scene from some dusty uninhabited planet, lit by some strange combination of nearby stars.

In the Freemans space, Sherry mutes the eye-popping color by applying a layer of fine sand to the surface of the photographs, making the lumpy rock formations more delicate and tactile. His tints move closer to pastels, and in some cases, the sand obscures the detail in the photographs to the point where the works become extremely subtle, striated gradients. This abstraction is taken one step further in a series of colored photograms, where the angles and shapes of the rock walls are used as inspiration for simple layered patterns, once again executed in a spectrum of undiluted radiance.

To my eye, the bolder forms in the Bowery space are the more radical and unusual. I can imagine one of the large colored rock walls punctuating a survey show of photographic landscapes and truly throwing viewers off guard. These works bring something original to the view of the land, while still being tied to historical precedents (imaging hanging a bright purple Sherry rock wall adjacent to a 19th century view of Canyon de Chelly by O’Sullivan). I think I would actually like the photograms better if they were taken out of this desert sand context and allowed to function as stand alone abstractions. In this case, their extreme use of color would separate them from traditional darkroom practices and show off their innovation better.

Color this buoyantly joyful might have a tendency to become too easily decorative, but I think Sherry has found ways to keep the edginess in many of the pictures. Effectively harnessing and applying such powerful color without becoming gimmicky is undeniably a stiff challenge. But Sherry’s use of color here is clearly original, and seems likely to lead to further unexpectedly brazen chromatic explorations in the future.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The standard chromogenic prints are either $8000 (30×40), $12000 (48×58), or $18000 (60×72). The photograms (30×40) are $12000 each, while the sand covered prints are either $8000 (20×24), $14000 (40×50), $16000 (48×58), or $22000 (60×72). Sherry’s work has not yet entered the secondary markets in any significant manner, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.

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