Ben – his biggest ever retrospective in Lyon



Ben is not just child-like writing on a pencil case or a fountain pen with J’écris pour la gloire. To understand the universe of Ben – beyond his ego and his derivative products – we need to look at Fluxus, at his eloquence, his doubts and his struggles.

It all began in Nice in a small boutique he ran between 1958 and 1973. As his record sales business was not particularly dynamic, BEN created events, invited artistes to exhibit their works, decorated the shop’s façade with an accumulation of miscellaneous objects, phrases, whatever took his fancy, made a lot of noise and opened a laboratory on the first floor. He called it Laboratoire 32. It was a place where people met and talked and where Ben started to sign everything that he touched, including the works of other artists and his own body. Energetic, funny, jealous, tormented, Ben was little concerned by formal artistic aesthetics. His favourite themes are art, life, ego, truth, regional cultures.
Ben, whose real name is Benjamin Vautier, lives in France. Consequently, Ben is not expensive. 80% of his works sell for less than $5,000 at auctions. Today, a black writing on white background (acrylic on canvas) fetches between $3,000 and $7,000 on average. His original felt pen drawings can be acquired for just $400 to $900. .

Artists with Ben’s stature in the United States or England would be worth at least ten times as much. Some of his works are sold through auction houses such as Phillips de Pury & Company, Bloomsbury, Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams and the prices are sometimes cheaper than in France. On 17 October last, a 70cm acrylic on paper fetched less than $3,000 at Phillips de Pury & Company in London.
Ben’s works are sold in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Holland but the majority of his market (70%) is French. Over the last 10 years his market has accelerated: of his twenty-nine auctions results above $10,000, twenty-eight were generated during the last decade.Moreover, the significant media attention given to his retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lyon has already boosted his price index. Indeed, his latest auction record of €35,000 ($52,600) was set on 24 October 2009 at Millon – Cornette de Saint Cyr Paris against an estimated price range of €15,000 – €20,000. The work in question is entitled Art and Fric, a very appropriate title in the middle of an art market crisis. This 2-metre wide acrylic (dated 1984) signed Peint par Ben, artiste corrompu par la mode (painted by Ben, an artist corrupted by fashion) is fairly unusual: using plenty of colour, it teems with imaginary characters and short phrases referring to the art world and its dealers (Leo Castelli and Durand-Dessert). Ben is also known for that… exposing the hidden face of the small world of Contemporary art in a quite uncompromising manner. His weekly newsletters are a perfect example…

If Ben dragged art out of museums to get it into our lives … will he manage to inject life into the Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art? His retrospective entitled Strip-tease intégral de Ben will run until 11 July 2010 and exhibit over a thousand works covering more than 50 years of creation. The artist’s development – as shown in this retrospective exhibition – promises to take visitors on a rich, dense and participative voyage!