Barton Benes’ early series of book sculptures appears to be a successor to Joseph Cornell’s box constructions, while also sharing the Funk Art irreverence of Robert Arneson’s teapots, bricks and vases. Benes elevated objects of everyday life, turning them otherworldly in the acid hues of a supernatural world. Channeling the object culture of Surrealism and Dada, Benes’ book sculptures upend our perceptions of the utilitarian object by inventing a new language of meanings.
Barton Benes was born in Westwood, New Jersey in 1942. After graduating from Pratt University in the early 1960s, Benes spent over 40 years in New York’s West Village, where he lived and worked in a studio at Westbeth Artists Community. Living as an HIV-positive man, Benes became a social advocate for those suffering from the illness, and served on the board of Visual AIDS, an awareness and prevention organization for the disease. He was the recipient of numerous awards, including a 1978 Ariana Foundation Award for Art in Mixed Media, a 1983 Rutgers University Vorhees Grant for Printmaking, and a 1988 Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. His work has been exhibited at the Cleveland Museum of Art; the North Dakota Museum of Art; the Katonah Museum of Art; the New York Public Library; and the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as Centre Pompidou, Paris; Boras Konstmuseum, Sweden; and Old Town Hall, Prague. He is represented in the permanent collections of The Art Institute of Chicago, The Smithsonian American Art Museum, The U.S. Mint and the North Dakota Museum of Art. The artist died in 2012.