Following his participation in the Open Studios project at P.S.1, Linda Shearer invited Ernst Benkert to do a show at Artists Space. The show was the first exhibition in a series, sponsored by the Mark Rothko Foundation, that would seek to grant exposure to more mature or established artists, whose work had remained outside of a mainstream, New York discourse. Benkert chose to exhibit works on paper in a retrospective format, which he titled Meshes, Crosses, Bars: 1976 – 1983.
In Cleveland, in 1960, Benkert had been founding member of the Anonima group along with artists Francis Hewitt and Ed Mieczkowki. The group formed, in part, as a reaction to gestural abstraction’s pretense of the possibility of the direct and automatic channeling of the psyche. True to this sentiment, Benkert’s drawings at Artists Space were simple, graphic abstractions, which share something of literalist sculpture’s formal vocabulary. (Incidentally, Benkert had befriended Donald Judd in 1959 while a teacher at the Allen Stevenson School in New York; Judd was working there as a woodshop instructor at the time.) In a statement printed in the accompanying publication, Benkert presents his own practice as radically straightforward: “I’m not much interested in newness for its own sake, and prefer to be part of an old, even outmoded tradition.” In the accompanying publication, the critic Joseph Masheck characterizes Benkert’s work as always remaining one step ahead of its own logical inevitability, suggesting that subjective meaning begins to take shape in the gap between the materialized form and the rational systems that drive it. In this way, Benkert’s agenda diverges from that of Minimalism, which places so much stock in the presentation of literal forms. Instead, Benkert uses those forms systematically to establish a set of expectations which he then, quietly, subverts.