Lynda Benglis, Eat Meat, 1969/1973. © Lynda Benglis. DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2009. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.
Lynda Benglis, Blatt, 1969. © Lynda Benglis. DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2009. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.
Lynda Benglis, Phantom, 1971, © Lynda Benglis. DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2009. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.
Lynda Benglis, Phantom, 1971, © Lynda Benglis. DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2009. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.
Lynda Benglis, Zita, from the Sparkle Knot series, 1972. © Lynda Benglis. DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2009. Courtesy Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design.
Lynda Benglis, The Graces, 2003-05. © Lynda Benglis. DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2009. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.
Lynda Benglis, Wing, 1970. Cast aluminum, 170.2 x 150.5 x 152.4 cm. Courtesy the artist and Cheim & Read, New York. © Lynda Benglis. DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2009.
Lynda Benglis, Photograph of the artist pouring latex, in Life Magazine Feb. 27, 1970: Fling, Dribble and Dip.
New Museum for Contemporary Art
February 9-June 19, 2011
The New York presentation of the exhibition is supplemented by a selection of specifically chosen works such as Contraband (1969), Benglis’s largest and most significant pour sculpture at almost 40 feet in length, on loan from Whitney Museum of American Art. Most significantly, the New Museum exhibition also includes Phantom (1971), a polyurethane installation consisting of five monumental sculptures that glow in the dark. Realized over 40 years ago and unseen since its original presentation at Kansas State University, Phantom has been known during intervening years exclusively via photographic documentation. Included in the presentation at the Museum of Art, the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Phantom has come to be considered the apex of the artist’s early accomplishments. It is an event of art historical importance that Phantom is on display at the New Museum for the first time ever in New York City.
The New Museum's major exhibition of works by Lynda Benglis is the renowned American artist’s first museum retrospective in over 20 years. Benglis is an artist whose work continues to challenge artistic norms and exceed easy definition. Initially developed in the 1960s, her singular practice did not fit clearly within the sharp aesthetics of Minimalism or in the overtly political gestures of feminist art. Unlike Minimalist sculpture, Benglis’s works are steeped in the organic, with rivers of vibrant colors and erotic melting forms populating her sculptures. Rejecting the formalist influences of modernism, Benglis takes painting off the wall and brings color back into sculpture; she captures sensual experience and creates a visceral tie between the viewer and her biomorphic figures. With this unique combination of sensuousness and punk attitude, Benglis has influenced many generations of artists.
Benglis’s best-known works question the rigors of Modernism and Minimalism by merging material, form, and content; bringing color back into sculpture; and taking painting off the wall. These works include her richly layered wax paintings and poured latex and polyurethane foam sculptures of the late 1960s and early ’70s; innovative videos, installations, and “knots” from the 1970s; metalized, pleated wall pieces of the 1980s and 1990s; and pieces in a variety of other mediums, such as glass, ceramics, photography, or cast polyurethane, as in the case of the monumental The Graces (2003-05).
In addition to Benglis’s extraordinary poured latex pieces from the 1960s and 1970s, the exhibition includes early bronze casts, wax reliefs, and videos, revealing the creative universe of an artist who has radically reinvented the language of contemporary sculpture. Works from her Torsos and Knots series of the 1970s is presented in close dialogue with such irreverent installations as Primary Structures (Paula’s Props) (1975). Benglis’s recent work in polyurethane and signature pleated-metal sculptures of the 1980s and 1990s is also on view in the exhibition, as is Benglis’s rarely seen photographic work. The exhibition also explores the artist’s landmark media interventions, such as the infamous 1974 Artforum advertisement featuring a nude Benglis holding a double-headed dildo, a commentary on the machismo that dominated the New York sculpture milieu at that time.
“Lynda Benglis has greatly influenced contemporary sculpture in general and a number of younger artists in particular, and assembling this many of her most important works, especially a number that are seldom shown, is very exciting. These are impressive, thought-provoking pieces, and I’m certain they’ll stimulate valuable dialogues about formal experimentation, as well as the political nature of art,” explains Judith Tannenbaum, The RISD Museum’s Richard Brown Baker Curator of Contemporary Art.
Taking the body and landscape as starting points, Benglis creates abstract works which are often distinguished by their physicality and immediacy, and have been famously described as “frozen gestures.” Her interest in process first manifested itself in early wax reliefs, created by applying one layer of colored wax on top of another, building up a geological landscape in works such as Karen (1972). Materials are also the core of Benglis’s Fallen Paintings series, such as Blatt (1969), in which pigmented liquid latex or polyurethane foam were poured onto the floor and against the wall.
In the 1970s, Benglis began a series of “sparkle knots” — made with cotton bunting, plaster, acrylic paint, and glitter over metal screen — and metalized knots which were sprayed with zinc, aluminum, or copper. Looping and tying the material, she created bow-like forms that display tensile energy and subvert the austerity of prevailing Minimalism. Addressing the issue of taste, Benglis said in 1989, “There will always be a Puritan strain in society that gets nervous if things are too pleasurable, too beautiful, or too open. That’s the most significant legacy of feminist art; it taught us not to be afraid to express these things.”
The exhibition features documentary material that underscores Benglis’s interest in exploring and subverting gender roles as well as pioneering video works which tackle themes of gender politics and experiment with the formal and performative potential of what was then a new medium. Videos such as Mumble layer audio and visual elements as they address the possibilities and limitations of the screen and Benglis’s relationship to it as director and performer, while Female Sensibility (1973) explores feminine sensuality. Benglis has long used media as a means of controlling her image and highlighting and challenging gender and power imbalances. Her most famous and explicit gesture, a two-page spread that appeared in Artforum magazine in November 1974, cemented her position as a provocateur within the American art world.
Most recently, Benglis has experimented with plastics, cast glass, paper, and gold leaf. Continuing to use the body and landscape as primary references, Benglis’s latest sculptures reveal a striking sense of immediacy and physicality even as they seem to defy gravity.
For the RISD Museum exhibition, some additional artworks of significance were included. A few of these works are also shown at the New Museum in New York. The additional works on view at RISD ranged from grids of Polaroid photographs from the Secrets series (1974-75), a large fan-shaped wall piece from the Peacock series (1979), and a group of large paper Vessel Lamps (2009), as well as pieces rendered in clay and glass and the five-piece Phantom installation. Some of the works in glass were made at RISD in 1985, when she served as a visiting artist and critic. “I’m especially pleased that we’re able to present these additional pieces to our visitors,” said curator Judith Tannenbaum. “Few people know the breadth of Lynda’s work, and the full extent of her oeuvre reveals how she has revisited materials and ideas over the years. She’s always been very interested in the surfaces of her works, in their textural qualities, and she has sometimes described her artmaking process as working from the outside in. And in this show, we get to see how that dynamic process has changed over four decades.”
Born in 1941 in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Lynda Benglis lives and works between New York; Santa Fe; Kastelorizo, Greece; and Ahmedabad, India. A longtime resident of the Lower East Side in Manhattan, Benglis’s studio is just across the street from the New Museum on the Bowery. The New Museum was an early supporter of Benglis and showed her work in two group exhibitions at the New Museum’s Broadway location: Early Work, in 1982, and Vision, in 1983. She is represented by Cheim & Read, New York.
Benglis studied at Newcomb College, now part of Tulane University, graduating with a BFA in 1964.
Her solo exhibitions include Galerie Hans Müller, Cologne, 1970; Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, 1970; Hayden Gallery, MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1971; Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, 1971; Lynda Benglis: Video Tapes, curated by Robert Pincus-Witten, Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, New York, 1973; Sparkle Knots, The Clocktower, New York, 1973; Moving Polaroids, The Kitchen, New York, 1975; Lynda Benglis-Keith Sonnier, A Ten Year Retrospective, 1977-1987, Alexandria Museum of Art, Alexandria, Louisiana, 1987; Dual Natures, curated by Susan Krane, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, 1990 (Benglis’s last major retrospective); Lynda Benglis: From the Furnace, Auckland City Art Gallery, 1993; Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles, 1991; Michael Janssen Gallery, Cologne, 1997; Lynda Benglis: Sculptures, Bass Museum of Art, Miami, 2003; A Sculpture Survey 1969-2004, Cheim & Read, New York, 2004; Lynda Benglis: Pleated, Knotted, Poured…, Locks Gallery, Philadelphia, 2006; Lynda Benglis-Louise Bourgeois, Circa 70, Cheim & Read, New York, 2007; and Shape Shifters, Locks Gallery, Philadelphia, 2008.
Benglis has also exhibited widely in major group exhibitions, including the seminal Anti-Illusion: Procedure/Materials, Whitney Museum of Art, New York, 1969 (catalogue only); Works for New Spaces, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1971; Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1973, 1981; Three-Dimensional Painting, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Early Work, The New Museum, New York, 1982; The New Sculpture 1965-75: Between Geometry & Gesture, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1990; Fémininmasculin: le sexe dans l’art, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1995; More Than Minimal: Feminism and Abstraction in the ’70s, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1996; and, more recently, Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis, Tate Modern, London, 2001; Summer of Love: Psychedelic Art from the 60s, Tate Liverpool, 2005; High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975, Independent Curators International, New York, 2007; Circa 70: Lynda Benglis and Louise Bourgeois, Cheim & Read, New York, 2007; and Lynda Benglis/Robert Morris: 1973-1974, Susan Inglett Gallery, New York, 2009.
Lynda Benglis, a 450-page fully illustrated hardcover monograph, produced by Les Presses du Réel, accompanies the exhibition. It comprises texts by Dave Hickey and Elisabeth Lebovici and exhibition curators Franck Gautherot, Caroline Hancock, Laura Hoptman, and Judith Tannenbaum; an interview with the artist conducted by curator Seungduk Kim; and an in-depth chronology compiled by curator Diana Franssen. Renowned and unseen archival material, including magazine articles, photographs, letters, and installation shots, are reproduced, as well as an overview of Benglis’s work since the mid-1960s. Two seminal articles published in Artforum magazine are also reproduced: The Frozen Gesture by Robert Pincus-Witten (November 1974) and Bone of Contention by Richard Meyer (November 2004).
Spanning 40 years of work, Lynda Benglis is organized by the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, in collaboration with Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Le Consortium, Dijon; Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; and New Museum, New York.
Lynda Benglis, Karen, 1972. © Lynda Benglis. DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2009. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.
Lynda Benglis, Cocoon, 1971. Wax on wood, 36 x 5 x 5 in (91.4 x 12.7 x 12.7 cm). Collection George and Nancy Rosenfeld. © Lynda Benglis. DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2009.