When artist Ben Werther was 8 years old, he went to the field behind his elementary school to dig in the dirt. Speaking in his New York studio in the basement of the Amanita gallery, he recalled these times and said that he enjoyed sitting in the mud and digging for Indian money instead of playing football.
One day, Ben Werther discovered a large number of remains of an ancient marine animal that evolved 300 million years before the dinosaurs. These fossils can be found in abundance in the American Midwest and in Nashville, where the artist grew up.
They joined Ben Werther’s collection, which also included four-leaf clover, butterflies, crayfish, and fairy books. These objects had a kind of hypnotic power for him. They were imbued with intense, wordless meaning.
Ben Werther says that it is a shame to lose this connection with the world. “Once I learned about art, I think I lost it. It’s like when you don’t know what to do with [these objects] when you don’t know how to process it, you have a deeper understanding of it,” he added.
Ben Werther’s art is still closely associated with this subconscious impulse to collect.
His Amanita show called EVERYONE IS A GENIUS: BEN WERTHER is a product of this impulse, with 26 fragments derived from parking notes, i.e. messages left on the windshield after a particularly bad parking.
Ben Werther first encountered the parking post in FOUND Magazine. People from all over the world could submit things they encountered and FOUND would publish them. The magazine first appeared in 2000 when one of its founders came across a note under a windshield wiper.
“Mario,” it said, “I fucking hate you you said you had to work then whys your car HERE at HER place?? you’re a fucking liar I hate you I fucking hate you Amber ps page me later”.
When Ben Werther picked up the FOUND magazine at McKay’s, a giant second-hand bookshop in Nashville, he was drawn to the section on parking records.
“Roses are red, violets are blue, you’re fucking suck at parking,” one post reads, with a big heart around the text and a vague “xoxo.” This was the inspiration for Werther’s 62″ tall painting XOXO (2023). Ben Werther created this painting by enlarging a note to size and engraving a copy on a Styrofoam board.
Over time, Ben Werther decided to work on the posts by looking for the hashtag #niceparking or #parkingnotes on social media and managed to collect hundreds of them from 2018 to 2020.
Ben Werther’s art stems from his anthropological interest in what he calls “the framework of social mechanisms,” the cultural motifs that connect people to each other and to places and shape their understanding of the world.
However, the world is becoming more and more digital. And Ben Werther is most attracted to the circulation of motifs that betray a collective nostalgia for the times when people still had a tactile relationship with cultural production.
Even something as seemingly unremarkable as parking notes can impress the viewer. Ben Werther has his own drive to process and synthesize not only the parking note but the attraction and nostalgia that made people pass it on.
Ben Werther`s art resembles those early elementary school attempts to index the world by laying a sheet of paper on top of a sheet and swiping across it with a pencil.