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Barton Lidice Benes, “In Memory of Barton Lidice Benes”

Umeå, 8.6–28.6  2013

New York-based artist Barton Lidice Benes grabbed the attention of the art world by incorporating items from his vast collection of objet trouvés in his distinctive collages and cabinets. A master of transformation, he turned the forsaken and rejected into poetic, colorful illuminations of life. During the 80’s, as his friends started dying of AIDS and Benes himself tested HIV-positive, the everyday materials of the epidemic made their way into his work: pills, tubes and infected blood, even the ashes of cremated friends. The somber and personal themes, combined with his Dadaistic sense of humor, always made for relevant and life-embracing works of art, which unveiled cultural taboos and pushed boundaries in such a charming manner that no one could disregard it.

The starting point for Benes’ collecting frenzy was a trip to West Africa in 1971. An initial contact with a few anthropologists and archaeologists, gradually led to a worldwide network of friends and fans, sending him random oddities to expand his collection of relics of the past and the present: a piece of Saddam Hussein’s palace, a thread from Mikhail Baryshnikov’s ballet shoe, Sylvester Stallone’s urine, a blackened human toe, jelly beans from the Oval Office, Larry Hagman’s gallstones, a piece of Elizabeth Taylor’s shoe, one of Hitler’s spoons and shattered glass form the car that brought Princess Diana to her end. Items which used to fill Benes’ Greenwich Village apartment and studio, floor to ceiling. All labeled with white tags in his signature loopy handwriting.

Sadly, Barton Benes left us on the 30th of May 2012. He truly was a great artist, and even greater person – a collector of curiosities as well as of loving friends. As a longtime member of our gallery family, he will be truly missed and forever remembered. The exhibition is our farewell to him, or perhaps a ‘see you later’. Benes’ apartment is now being recreated at the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks, US. His younger brother Warren Benes explains: “The place was always an extension of him, but at the end, he became an extension of it.” The museum installation will be furnished exactly as he left his home, incorporating his entire collection. Eventuelly, the artist himself will be included in the exhibition, as Benes carefully planned for his ashes being kept in a pillowcase on the bed in front of his TV set, which forever will play re-runs of Law and Order and Judge Judy. Benes said, “It makes me comfortable that I get to live in my own pyramid now”.

Barton Lidice Benes, 1942-2012, was born in New Jersey, US. As a son of Czech immigrants, his middle name was given to him in memory of Lidice, a Czech town destroyed by the Nazis on the year of Benes’ birth. He graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and also attended the Beaux-Arts in Avignon, France. His works are included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian, the National Museum of American Art and the National Gallery of Australia. In his lifetime, he had five solo exhibitions at Galleri Andersson/Sandström.