David Benjamin Sherry, Climate Vortex Sutra @Salon 94 Bowery

JTF (just the facts): A total of 29 black and white and color photographs, alternately framed in silver and white with interior edges painted to match to dominant color of the images, and hung against white walls in the main downstairs gallery space and the upstairs entry area. The works are mix of gelatin silver prints and “traditional color darkroom photographs” (presumably c-prints), some with collage elements, made in 2014. Physical sizes range from 14×11 to 90×70 (or reverse), and all of the prints are available in editions of 3+2AP. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: David Benjamin Sherry’s newest show finds him adding a layer of simmering environmental menace to his now instantly recognizable candy colored landscapes. Eschewing the dominance of any one image in favor of a salon style installation of mixed sizes, the exhibit coalesces the varied photographs into a single statement (hence the sutra concept in the title), combining still lifes, nudes, and portraits with a full spectrum rainbow of lakes, mountains, and rocky hills. The thematic framework adds a welcome punch to his signature tints and dyes, making this body of work his most integrated and weighty to date.

While many of the landscapes on view continue Sherry’s pattern of making homages to past photographic masters (Minor White and Edward Weston are celebrated here), the climate change challenge seems to have moved to the center of his thought process. The usually deep green Hawaiian jungle is now enveloped in a choking acidic yellow mist, an obviously melting glacier is sweltering in a light purple heat, and a dry geothermal gouge in the dry Utah desert sizzles in throbbing red. The seas rise, forest fires scorch the trees, lava flows erupt, and icebergs wallow – it’s the coming environmental apocalypse, but seen with deceiving beauty. Even Weston’s Point Lobos tide pools seem to be boiling over.

Interspersed with the landscapes, Sherry has included other signals of change. Rainbow colored body paint covers various representative humans, as though the people have been evolving and adapting to Sherry’s new color regime. Other elemental black and white nudes seem to emerge directly from the layers of sedimentary rock like fossils, while two men doused in oil kiss like frozen Pompeii statues; his outlook for us humans is not particularly optimistic. Other species have not had much better luck – the tiny Panamanian frog, the oversized large format camera, and the dinosaur park are all examples of extinction; perhaps the geotagged goat will do better with its newfangled technological enhancements.

Seen together, these pictures interleave a lulling sense of complacency and a quietly dark and frightening vision of the future, where Sherry’s happy colors aren’t at all what they seem. Seeing the Oregon Coast or the Grand Tetons in the wrong hues turns them into sinister vistas from a science fiction novel, only this time we’re not on Mars or in some parallel universe. The cheery decorative beauty here is deceptive and ultimately ephemeral, slowly dissolving away into a more despondent mood.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced between $3500 and $24000 (with multiple intermediate prices) based on size. Sherry’s work has only recently begun to enter the secondary markets, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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