Beyond the White — Benjamin Terry at Galleri Urbane

If contemporary shows have anything in common, it’s white walls. Benjamin Terry questioned this and created a site-specific installation for his Galleri Urbane show. Before I entered the gallery space, I could already see a dark wall of Victorianesque floral patterns. “That’s all from,” Terry says. “Thirty-six yards of it.”

Also in the room is a Victorian-era sofa fit for the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland. When we posted a picture of it on Instagram, antiques expert John Tompkins of New Orleans immediately pointed out that it was not from the Victorian-era, rather from Montgomery, Alabama and made in the 1960s. “It’s identical to my mother’s.”

Terry’s show, A Romantic Gesture invites viewers to glimpse through his new body of works with personal narratives. For the past year, he and his fiancé, while maintaining a long distance relationship, have been planning their wedding and future home. The conversation about draped fabrics and architectural details morphs into his work. The installation, with additional flowers, a porcelain cat, a Victorian sofa, and the floral wallpaper, contextualizes seemingly abstract forms with the tenderness of love and romance.

Before joining Galleri Urbane, Terry’s constructed wood paintings were shown in Ro2 Gallery. If his previous work accentuates the colorful interplay of different shapes within the overall structure, the current work is restrained, waiting to be deciphered with a second look. Strips or blocks of wood are almost monochrome, only varying slightly in hues and values.

That leads to the visual shift in focus from the shapes themselves to the negative space in-between. The lines formed by the gaps look naïve and somewhat awkward. Here and there is a burr along the wood edge which has gathered extra paint. That tension dissolves quickly where the gap is slightly enlarged– an inevitable outcome when stacking organic hand-cut wood forms. Because he only paints the surface of the wood, often half a dozen times, those lines hide and reveal the wood grain when viewed at different angles. When I spent some time with individual pieces, the wallpaper began to recede. The familiar motifs have a soothing calmness, yet the gestural lines maintain fluid dynamism. Terry says those lines remind him of his drawing practice.

The fabric was applied to the wall with liquid starch because (in theory) it’s easy to remove. “We will know for sure in four weeks,” says assistant director Adrian Zuniga. Terry was surprised by the way the pattern changes the way individual pieces are perceived. One work has diagonal strips of red in the upper part and drape-shaped curves stacked below. It became his favorite when he saw the harmony between the painting and the floral wall, accentuated by a happenstance red square at the top.

A Romantic Gesture — Benjamin Terry at Galleri Urbane

The show stopper is a large piece in primary red. Underneath are a wave of flowers taped on the wall, as if the feminine proposition of the painting isn’t apparent. The irregular linear quality takes on a different dimension. Each eggshell shaped wood block is tilted upward, just enough to be noticeable. They remind me of tiles on a roof. But under the light, that deep red is scintillating through lines of dark shadows and light gaps.

Sitting in cherry-red pseudo-Victorian sofa and enjoying this work, you have to ask, does it get any better? Would a Danish mid-century chair lend itself as well to this romantic gesture? Probably not. Maybe more galleries should explore alternate decor. Visitors may linger a little longer.

Looking again at that wall of flowered fabric, Zuniga shakes his head and says “it better not pull off the sheetrock.”

Coincidentally, I wore a jacket that matched the wall paper.

A Romantic Gesture, the solo exhibition by Benjamin Terry, is on view at Galleri Urbane through March 29, 2019.

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