Artists Space

Meshes, Crosses, Bars: 1976 - 1983

November 5 – December 3, 1983


A painting with 5 black vertical rectangles in the center srrounded by indvidually outlined white squares inside a larger black rectangular outline on a white canvas hanging on a white wall.
Benkert, Ernst. Bars, 1981. [A painting with 5 black vertical rectangles in the center srrounded by indvidually outlined white squares inside a larger black rectangular outline on a white canvas hanging on a white wall.]

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.

Ernst Benkert was born in 1928 in Chicago and has been living in New York City since 1962. Adjunct Professor in Art History and Painting at Pratt Institute where he has been teaching since 1966, he has developed a reputation as an important teacher. His work has been seen most recently in a one-man exhibition at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey in 1980 and in the group exhibition 4 at the Arsenal, in the Central Park Arsenal, also in 1980. During the 60s, Benkert was active with two other artists, Frank Hewitt and Ed Mieczkowski, all three of whom made up the Anonima Group. They showed extensively in Europe and the United States, often in independent presentations which they organized on their own without institutional or commercial support. Benkert's work is in the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, and the McCrory Corporation, New York; he has been awarded both a Creative Artists Public Service (CAPS) grant and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship.

Artists Space activities are made possible by grants from: the New York State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts; the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Lauder Foundation, Samuel Rubin Foundation; and our corporate sponsors, AT&T Long Lines, Chase Manhattan Bank, Citibank, Consolidated Edison, EXXON, Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb, R.H. Macy and Company, Morgan Guaranty Trust Company, Philip Morris, and Warner Communications.