About 8 years ago I was browsing in a bookstore and discovered Curiosa by Barton Lidice Benes. Subtitled Celebrity Relics, Historical Fossils, & Other Metamorphic Rubbish, this book was like a fascinating cabinet of curiosities and I bought it instantly. Benes is an American artist who has spent most of his life collecting things. But his collections are just left of ordinary. He doesn't just collect stamps or figurines. Instead his collection focuses on fragments of celebrity, politics, natural history, and culture which he then uses as material to create categorized assemblages, collages, and mini-museums.
Curiosa presents a series of these 'Museums' along with text from Benes which explains how he came upon many of the objects. The Museums are set up by category, with each item obsessively documented. In the Artists Museum he has 80 items, including Keith Haring's matches, Jean Michel Basquiat's paintbrush bristles, and Mark Rothko's necktie complete with paint splatters. Among the 72 items in the Food Museum is mold from Cindy Crawford's jam circa 1999, corn from a mummy's tomb circa 500 AD, and a plastic spoon used by Woody Harrelson circa 1994. The book also presents Museums of Celebrity, Death, Sharp, Shards, Hair, Reliquary, and more. Always fascinating, often disturbing, Benes' art and this book are one-of-a-kinds.
While gallery hopping last month, I went into one of my favorite galleries, Pavel Zoubok, and was excited to see that the exhibition, Archive, was a survey of Benes' work from the prior 20 years. Included were several of his Museums as well as other, mixed-media pieces. Benes creates with wit and whimsy as he catalogs the themes of our lives. Each of his works were individually enthralling. Together they made a fascinating Archive of the sometimes very bizarre world we live in.