Barton Lidice Benes

February 29 – April 28, 2004


The North Dakota Museum of Art is proud to present New Work by Barton Benes in his third solo exhibition with the NDMOA.

For forty years Barton Benes has been collecting relics, inanimate witnesses to history. Tiny observers to murders, scandals, disasters and fame find their way into his hands, onto heavy watercolor paper and into his reliquary.

Benes does not distinguish relics from each other based on value, but rather displays them thematically based on random coincidence, such as color or material. In the Sticks and Stones collection, a piece of Shirley Temple’s dollhouse is displayed adjacent to a fragment from the 4th relieving chamber of the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt. In the White Trash collection a portion of Alec Baldwin’s jockstrap worn during the production of Macbeth is displayed to the right of a ceramic tile fragment from Adolph Hitler’s house in Berchtesgaden. Each relic is given equal weight and importance despite its associations to history, popculture, violence or the bizarre.

Benes, a third generation Czech-American, first entered the art scene in the 1980’s with his shredded and recycled currency collages. A more personal theme that Benes works with is that of HIV and AIDs. HIV positive himself, his work in this area is profound, emotional, and confronting. Recently, Benes has begun to exhibit items from his reliquary.

The North Dakota Museum of Art chose Barton Benes as the exhibiting artist for the Grand Opening of the NDMOA. Since the opening in 1989, Barton has graced the Museum with a dear and lasting friendship.

Benes exhibited again in 1993 with the controversial Lethal Weapons exhibit, consisting of his toys, squirting flowers, hypodermic needles and the like filled with his HIV infected blood.

In 1998, Benes worked with the NDMOA in the Ebb Tide exhibit, featuring various artists who brought closure with their work to the former year’s disastrous flood.

Barton Benes’ relationship goes beyond exhibitions; he is an important component of the structure of the North Dakota Museum of Art itself, figuratively and literally. During the remodeling of the West Gym into the Museum, the Director, Laurel Reuter, sought the assistance of artists to help complete the physical design of the space. Barton Benes’ contribution was designing the Museum Shop. Using the familiar material of shredded currency he also created the center display column and the Museum Shop sign.

The “Donor Wall,” adjacent to the stairs leading to the Mezzanine Gallery, was also designed by Barton Benes. For every large donor to Museum, Benes will create an individual work of art. He uses the same format and style he uses in his reliquary for the Donor Wall pieces.

At the bottom row of the Donor Wall there is a donation from Barton Benes himself to the Museum. Along with the visibly stated “African and Egyptian” collection in his will, Benes has also donated the entire contents of his New York City apartment. The apartment is recreated here at NDMOA.

Installation Images