Jesus Benavente arrived in Marfa in a van crammed with most of the materials he needed to explore what he described as the allure of West Texas: “A place of shifting borders, stolen lands, lost hearts and found beauty … filled with displaced and replaced Latinx and Indigenous people … the exiled and the finally free.” The fresh roses that he planned to use would have to be purchased at Porter’s grocery store.
Grounded in performance, Benavente’s work is enacted through language, installation, and a trickster persona named BENAVENTE. His art engages with thorny realities of identity and class with humor and aggression. A 2018 performance at the Whitney Museum of American Art began with BENAVENTE crawling over the audience, while screaming the magic word “SHAZAM,” before serenading them with a five-piece mariachi band and pelting them with roses. Playing with power, Benavente’s performance was a test of his audience’s tolerance for his love and abuse, along with their own abjection.
Benavente’s open studio event centered on the legend of the Virgin of Guadalupe, whose apparition to an Indigenous Mexican man named Juan Diego was met with disbelief by the Spanish Catholic church until the miraculous proof: Juan Diego’s cloak filled with roses and stained with her image. A large depiction of the Virgin, painted on sheets of metal and hung over a row of votive candles, occupied the back space of the Locker Plant. In the front space, the walls had been “painted” with the pigment of fresh roses, which lay in a mutilated heap on the floor. Rows of cinder blocks, stained with garden flowers, suggested a mash-up of Donald Judd’s works in concrete at Chinati and a nearby shrine dedicated to the 1990s sighting of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Marfa. Benavente’s own ambivalent faith in painting was expressed in a series of his Protest Paintings, which he hoses down with water while still wet. For those who wandered into a nearly hidden dark space, there was one of Benavente’s Sad Parties going full tilt with disco lights, sirens, balloons, projections, an inflatable jacuzzi, and not a single reveler.
Jesus Benavente (born in San Antonio, Texas; lives in Brooklyn, New York) received his MFA from Rutgers University and BFA from the University of Texas at Austin. In the spring of 2023, he was a participant in Hard Return: 9 Experiments for this Moment, an experiential exhibition project at the Neuberger Museum of Art at Purchase College, State University of New York.