Art Out: American Monuments by David Benjamin Sherry at Salon 94 Bowery
Photographs by Cid Roberts
The history of landscape photography has consistently been tied to both conservation and destruction motives. David Benjamin Sherry, a Los Angeles based photographer, is speaking to this history with his American Monuments series presented at Salon 94 Bowery. “I aim to revivify and radicalize American landscape photography,” Sherry says, “to both celebrate and challenge the traditions of the past...” Sherry radicalizes his gaze by using color as a vehicle of emotion. The jewel tones that the artist uses to illuminate the landscape utilize queer theory and henceforth invite questions about ownership, space, land-use, and preservation.
Aside from the technical brilliance and aesthetic qualities of the large-scale photographs, there is an ominous quality attached to them. The scenes Sherry chose to depict belong to National Monuments protected by the federal government that have faced cuts or are under review by the Trump administration. The monuments are: Gold Butte in Nevada, Cascade Siskiyou in Oregon, and Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears in Utah. By juxtaposing revoked territory with that which has retained protection, Sherry underscores the looming threat of privatization despite how easy it is to assume the things we love will always be there.
This brand of landscape photography belongs to the Anthropocene in that it charts the impermanence of life as we know it. But work like this provides reassurance along with desperation. One massive photo in the lower level of the gallery space titled, Valley of the Gods I, Bears National Monument, Utah, 2018, struck me with such a duality. The photo is tinted a deep, rich blue and a pyramid-like mound takes up the bottom quarter of the frame. A rock formation juts out of the center-right of the mound. I couldn’t help but see the shape of the rock as resembling a middle finger and I imagined it was a sign a sign of resilience. That is, it proclaimed “I’m still here.”
Nevertheless, despite the savvy, radical approach Sherry demonstrates, there’s more work to be done. I hoped, leaving Salon 94 Wednesday evening, that viewers would see past the dazzling colors and impressive composition which could come off superficial without the artist’s context. I hoped this would be a call to action and not a sweet spectacle.
American Monuments will be exhibited until October 26th and limited edition copies of Sherry’s monograph are available for purchase at the gallery, Salon 94 Bowery. The monograph includes essays by writers, activists, and environmentalists Terry Tempest Williams and Bill Mckibben.
You can view more of Cid’s photographs here.