Barton Lidice Benes | Provocative sculptor, 69

Posted: June 20, 2012

Barton Lidice Benes, 69, a New York sculptor who worked in materials that he called artifacts of everyday life, expanded his definition of everyday as he went. He used the everyday mementos of childhood in his early work, and later made sculptures from chopped-up, everyday U.S. cash (purchased pre-shredded from the Federal Reserve).

When friends started dying of AIDS, and Mr. Benes himself tested HIV-positive, he began working in everyday materials of the epidemic - pills and capsules, intravenous tubes, HIV-infected blood, and cremated human remains.

Mr. Benes, who died of complications of AIDS on May 30, created a body of work that was exhibited internationally and included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Smithsonian.

His work dealing with the AIDS epidemic was acclaimed for its raw approach to death. Some of it was so raw that he had difficulty finding art galleries willing to show it. Among his best-known works - though it was never exhibited publicly - was his collection of memento mori filling his 850-square-foot New York City apartment and studio, floor to ceiling: thousands of artifacts like tribal masks, taxidermy, religious relics, voodoo dolls, and a stockpile of celebrity ephemera. He called it "my tomb."

The North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks, which in the early 1990s showed works of his that no other galleries would, plans to build a replica of his apartment and furnish it exactly as Mr. Benes left it.

- N.Y Times News Service

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