Benjamin Terry Works at Johansson Projects

Modernist abstraction and Dadaist provocation come together in the cut and painted plywood assemblages of Dallas artist Benjamin Terry.


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Art by Benjamin Terry.

Photo courtesy Johansson Projects

Modernist abstraction and Dadaist provocation come together in the cut and painted plywood assemblages of Dallas artist Benjamin Terry in Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect. There’s also a good deal of the contemporary taste for the offbeat, ironic, and even abject which will be catnip for future historians and psycho-historians of our frazzled, ersatz era, assuming we have one, that is.

Terry’s abstract constructions, made of “various painting media, glue, and wood,” may sometimes suggest architecture, perhaps of the unwieldy, tottering, gravity-defying sort that exists only in dreams. But they defy expectations of real-world stability or inhabitability: They’re more like cartoon buildings. With their matter-of-fact display of rough facture — fine joinery is not the point here — they exude a kind of happy acceptance of entropy and overglued joints. Modernism embraced chance and even crudeness over spit and polish: Indifference to craftsmanship in art opens up areas of feeling and expression closed off to the perfectionist mindset. Shakespeare’s philosopher-prince opined, “There is a divinity that shapes our ends. Rough-hew them how we will.” Kafka dreamt up the Odradek, a ragtag contraption of wood and string that has become somehow animated, living on a stairway, and cheerful despite its humble state and unknown fate.

Terry’s artworks may challenge the strait-laced, materialistic, bourgeois sensibility that Kafka invokes in “The Cares of a Family Man,” as have many adversarial artists of the past, but their cheerful absurdity asks us to laugh with them, and maybe at ourselves, too, as equally contingent, ramshackle beings.

Michael Bise, in a review in GlassFire Magazine, writes: “One Untitled thing sits on a pair of pointless wheels. A couple of Terry’s smaller things ... look like half a skate ramp — nothing more useless than half a skate ramp.”

Is art useless nowadays, as many say, and have been saying? Does uselessness in an increasingly materialist world increasingly define art? To make or not to make.

Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect runs through Oct. 19, Johansson Projects, 2300 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-444-9140, JohanssonProjects.com.

This article originally appeared in our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

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