On June 18, 2012, Paul Vitello of The New York Times ran a story on the passing of Barton Lidice Benes (11/16/1942-05/30/2012), a New York sculptor who appropriated antiquarian methods of museum display into his finished works of art. Indeed, a source of inspiration for any historian, art historian, archaeologist, or punk archaeologist, this last Saturday I had the chance to visit his collection at the North Dakota Museum of Art, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks. In June 2012, Vitello said in his New York Times piece,
The North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks, which in the early 1990s showed controversial artworks of his [Barton’s] that no other galleries would, plans to build a replica of his apartment and furnish it exactly as Mr. Benes left it.
So that’s what I did, along with Molly, J. Earl Miller, and Rick Gion. We had a chance to sit next to and chat with J.D. Jorgenson and Jimmy. J.D. is a Bismarck native who studied art at North Dakota State University in Fargo, and who now has a straw bale pottery barn in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Some day I will build a straw bale shop. That is what I decided after chatting with Jorgenson. Artists are excellent sources of inspiration, or firing up that spirit within humanity.
Here are a couple snap shots of Barton’s collection at the North Dakota Museum of Art, including an opium bed which, in turn, is a reflection of the 19th century imperial struggle between Great Britain and China. Note the other items, though, and how they are displayed. In a short documentary of Barton, he said that as a child he was mesmerized by museums, the artifacts, and how they were displayed. You can see that in his art as well. Another memorable moment from the documentary was when Barton pointed to a piece of furniture in his apartment, that of which he salvaged from a dumpster. Paraphrasing, he said something to the effect of, “You can’t find stuff like this in dumpsters anymore.”
Art is meant to provoke, to incite, and to get people talking. As an artist, Barton accomplished that.