Monday, September 15, 2008
BARTON BENES, ARTIST AND RELICMAKER, 65
Barton Benes’ infatuation with relics started in 1961 when he went to the Catacombs in Rome and stole a monk’s bone out of a crypt. His controversial career has included relics incorporating a straw used by Monica Lewinsky and making AIDS ribbons out of human ashes. His exhibit “Lethal Weapons,” made from various items like a water pistol or a perfume atomizer filled with his own blood, was almost banned in Sweden. Finally, Swedish authorities allowed the exhibit, but only after the artworks were heated to destroy any germs or viruses in the blood. Benes’ brilliant relics have been collected in his book “Curiosa: Celebrity Relics, Historical Fossils and Other Metamorphic Rubbish.”
When I die, I am willing my entire apartment to a museum in North Dakota. They are going to rebuild it exactly as it is. They have photographed it and will catalogue it. My ashes are going to stay in the apartment, in a pillow on the bed.
Diane Arbus lived down the hall from me. I remember when they took her body out. She died in the bathtub. She slit her wrists.
In 1969, my boyfriend lived near Gay and Waverly. On the night of the Stonewall riots, I heard this great racket. I thought “What is that?” I didn’t participate. Instead I went to the local Howard Johnson’s. They had a wild tea room (public toilet). When all the action was going on, I was in the tearoom.
I once had an original Picasso lithograph. I say “once” because one night when I was a little high, I thought I was being very clever and scribbled on the lithograph. When I came to, I freaked and realized I had destroyed my Picasso. Then, either inspiration or desperation made me put it into a blender and grind it up. I got some cocaine bottles and filled them with the Picasso, telling people I was selling Picasso by the gram.
Editor’s note: “1 gram of Picasso” first sold at $300 a piece. The price is now more than $3000 per piece.