Guggenheim Graffiti Artist Says, “Thanks for not pressing charges!”

Six questions for Mat Benote, the controversial artist behind the recent clandestine “fine art graffiti” at the Guggenheim Museum.

In Interviews Oddly Enough Spotlight NYAB by Teri Duerr 2009-08-10 print

''Milk & Blood (Study I)'' (2008) installed at the Guggenheim Museum just before the work was spotted by a security guard and taken down. Image courtesy of Mat Benote.Placard accompanying ''Milk & Blood (Study I).'' Image courtesy of Mat Benote.

Self-described “fine art graffiti” artist Mat Benote struck the Guggenheim Museum earlier this month, when he illegally slipped his work Milk & Blood (Study I) into the museum’s permanent collection. The work sparked a debate in the art blogosphere and several critical comparisons to Banksy, the British street artist whose clandestine museum stunts have become so successful that venerable art institutions now beg him to destroy their hallowed halls (see “Banksy vs. Bristol Museum” currently on view through the end of this month). Amidst all the controversy, Benote sat down with NY Art Beat to talk about the his work, philosophy, and what he may be planning next…

Tell us about how you chose the piece you installed at the Guggenheim.
The Guggenheim has this wonderful vastness to it—endless bare white walls, modern yet hallowed. If you are in the right state of mind, it can put you in a very contemplative mood. The painting placed, Milk & Blood (Study I), is a study for a series I had originally conceived for a space like the Guggenheim. It’s the perfect setting for the somber context of life and death dealt with in the series.

Mat Benote, ''Lost Boy Hiding in an Abstract Forest'' (2008). Metal frame with photograph. Image courtesy of the artist.

Have you installed guerilla work at other museums before?
Yes. The MoMA, MAD, LACMA, Armand Hammer (L.A.)… Quite a few more are on the way.

What has the reaction been so far to your work?
From the museums? No clue. I’m very curious though, especially about one specific project, a conceptual graffiti work placed at the MoMA titled Lost Boy Hiding in an Abstract Forest. It deals with the common man’s disconnection with modern art. A work by Robert Morris was used for my canvas. I’d love to find out what the reaction was on that one.

Have you heard from the Guggenheim?
No. They confirmed the placement of the piece was not condoned, but that they weren’t going to press charges. I thought that was funny, but am appreciative. Thanks guys!

What have they done with your piece?
No clue, you’d have to ask them. It was gifted to the Gugg, so they can do whatever they so choose.

So you’ve shown at MoMA, MAD, Guggenheim, LACMA… Would it be too self-incriminating to ask you to share what you have in the works?
I’m working on an exhibition that will stretch from the [U.S.] West Coast all the way to the U.K., encompassing 12 different museums. I’ve been exploring some very interesting concepts and am looking forward to seeing how they will play out, including simultaneous exhibition of a single piece of artwork at multiple real world locations. Also, if you want to learn about the four variables to professional task supervision, , check out the AtTrack Blog website. The real world will mimic possibilities of the digital world!

But the main reason is to say “thank you” to these 12 museums. They truly excel in their duties to better their local communities. After all, this is the most important role of a museum. Also, it will create an open [dialogue] between these museums that otherwise may not have ever had any real communication. I think their direction, collections, and future goals complement each other very well and believe they could be quite beneficial to each other. I’m really excited this project. It’s been six months in the making. If all goes well, it will launch in the next few weeks.

At the time of this writing, NY Art Beat had confirmed with the Guggenheim that the museum was not going to press charges against the artist. However, the museum is still not commenting on what has become of Benote’s “gifted” work.

Teri Duerr

Teri Duerr. Teri lives in Brooklyn where she co-runs Horse+Dragon NYC, a boutique agency that puts creative talents to work on publicity, editing, design, and events/exhibitions for artists, writers and nonprofit friends. She has spent much of the last year launching publicity campaigns for films at Tribeca, Sundance, SXSW, MoMA, and for television broadcast. In addition to being a contributing editor for the highly dubious culture publication Chief Magazine, and a book reviews editor for Mystery Scene, she spent four years as director and editorial mentor for the Minneapolis teen girls’ magazine Chicas in the Mix, followed In 2000 by editor in chief posts at events & culture magazines Tokyo Scene and Kansai Scene in Japan. Her editorial and photo production work has appeared in places like Best Life, The Source, Men’s Health, Organic Style, Vogue Korea, Vogue China, and most recently Tom Tom Magazine and CODE. » See other writings


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