new-york

Benjamin Patterson, Ants (detail), 1960–62, ink on paper, two black-and-white photographs, 11 x 29.

Benjamin Patterson

The Studio Museum in Harlem

Benjamin Patterson, Ants (detail), 1960–62, ink on paper, two black-and-white photographs, 11 x 29.

Near the end of the 1960s, the artist, composer, and musician Benjamin Patterson began a twenty-year hiatus from making art, during which time he would live an “ordinary life”—but this in fact entailed several unusual careers: He was a the deputy director of the New York Department of Cultural Affairs, a reference librarian at the New York Public Library, an organizer of experimental music events, an activist, and the founder of a music management company. Patterson’s ordinary life was not a rejection of the art world, and it had nothing to do with failure. It was also not motivated by any spiritual, deeply personal, or political reasons––though he once noted that it was dispiriting to be the only member of Fluxus attending civil rights rallies. Patterson’s various vocations, while not “works,” have an affinity with his predominantly collaborative, task-based practice, and

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