Radiolab

Navigate
Return Home

Lethal Weapons

Thursday, August 01, 2013 - 12:10 PM

In the 1990s, a button-pushing New York artist took on a subject that cut him to the quick: HIV and AIDS.

Barton Benes had lost a lot of friends, including his boyfriend, and was himself HIV-positive when an everyday kitchen accident took on a surreal bent -- one that got him thinking about the visceral power of blood, and how it plays on our deepest fears. (For the rest of the story, listen to our piece on Benes in our Blood episode.)

The result is a series Benes titled Lethal Weapons -- a collection of pieces filled with the artist's own HIV-infected blood, and steeped in a sense of both danger and humor.

Here are a few of his weapons:

Lethal Weapons: Essence, 1994

Lethal Weapons: Essence, 1994. Barton Lidicé Beneš / Courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Gallery

Lethal Weapons: Silencer, 1993
Lethal Weapons: Silencer, 1993. Barton Lidicé Beneš / Courtesy of Warren Benes

Lethal Weapons: Absolute Benes, 1994

Lethal Weapons: Absolute Benes, 1994. Barton Lidicé Beneš / Courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Gallery

Lethal Weapons: Venomous Rose, 1993

Lethal Weapons: Venomous Rose, 1993. Barton Lidicé Beneš / Courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Gallery

Lethal Weapons: Crown of Thorns, 1996
Lethal Weapons: Crown of Thorns, 1996. Barton Lidicé Beneš / Courtesy of Warren Benes

Lethal Weapons: Pacifier, 1997
Lethal Weapons: Pacifier, 1997. Barton Lidicé Beneš / Courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Gallery

Lethal Weapons: Atonement, 1996

Lethal Weapons: Atonement, 1996. Barton Lidicé Beneš / Courtesy of Warren Benes

Lethal Weapons: Flying Missile, 1996

Lethal Weapons: Flying Missile, 1996. Barton Lidicé Beneš / Courtesy of Warren Benes

Lethal Weapons: Molotov Cocktail, 1994

Lethal Weapons: Molotov Cocktail, 1994. Barton Lidicé Beneš / Courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Gallery

 

Benes lived and worked in an incredibly eclectic apartment in Greenwich Village which he referred to as his "catacombs." It was a collection of all sorts of taboo objects (from celebrity urine samples to found body parts...really). Soon you'll be to visit his cabinet of curiosities -- Benes gifted all the objects and art within to the North Dakota Museum of Art, which is raising money to reassemble the apartment exactly as it was. With one addition: Barton's ashes permanently displayed in his home and now museum. In the meantime, you can take a digital tour.

Barton cataloging items in his apartment

Barton cataloging items in his apartment. Courtesy of Laurel Reuter

Tags:

More in:

Comments [2]

Warren Benes from Chicago

Well said Roger. Barton had so many friends and family that loved him and he loved you all.

Aug. 20 2014 10:36 AM
roger from New York

Thanks so much for the Barton Benes piece! I know Joe and Laurel and have seen "no secrets" and still cry each time. It was great to hear Barton and the story of his bloodbut I have to take exception with the statement "He had AIDS, He knew he had AIDS". It is incorrect.

He never had AIDS and knew he never had AIDS. He died of kidney failure, due to back surgery that was necessary to correct damage caused by steroids prescribed for C.O.P.D. Barton lived with an oxygen tube for the past 6 years of his life after he had partial lung removal surgery from Emphysema.
The NYT even corrected his obituary to state that fact, something that was very important for the family to clarify..not out of shame, but his defiance to the disease.

Barton was among the first to take AZT during the beginnings of the vaccine trials, and suffered from neuropathy for the rest of his life as a result. He endured taking up to 20 pills a day (5-7 that were for HIV) and was vigilant about taking them as well as the often renewed combinations and doses. He was always deeply saddened and suffered from the loss of his close friends and partner from AIDS, but he was also very proud of his resistance to AIDS, of his high t-cell count, of his "hearty Czech blood" that made him somewhat more resistant, in his own mind.

I know it's such a small point, when you consider this amazing piece you produced, I just wanted to clarify his record.

Thanks again for making this piece about the most amazing person I ever met! Barton's spirit will always be around...along with his blood, mummies, bones, voodoo and his love for his friends :)

Yours,
Roger

Aug. 02 2013 03:17 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Supported by

Feeds