See a room of pinched torsos on the wall (children’s torsos), deer forelegs, and stringy human forearms crossed, ornamented with Day-Glo brushstrokes and glitter... Now look at dissident fish hung up, gilded, called Siren, Minos, Knossos. Feel engulfed. Raptor, 1996, is a splayed silicone bronze sculptural brocade, like eight hard wigs.
Lynda Benglis’ particular post-minimalism favors bright colors, metals, and the apparent freezing of irregular, billowy eruptions. Benglis’ abstract sculptures of the last forty years are dynamic, they well-up, gush and land on every surface, equalizing accumulated associations: the feel of birthday sex, memories of sliding.
See breathing then squirming. Smell cat shit, fierce vomit stink, engine oil. Odd and to the ceiling, there are whimsical lamp-like phalluses, many surprising beeswax crevices, every kind of fan.
The ceramics seem to be breaking apart as fast as they are collecting in shiny piles too small to be pieces of tire but acting that way; they are about the texture of strips pulled from a tin can, just right for feeling like caving in, doubling over then letting go the weight of your head and resting your chin on. The Graces, 2005, is three totems of sinks or giant sea shells, pink-purple, translucent, lumpy, cast, giant Angel Trumpet stacks. Chiron, 2009, is an orange, pigmented urethane skull cap of nubs.
I’m sick of hearing about Lynda Benglis in reference to Jackson Pollock. What if Benglis could have existed before Jackson Pollock and without reference to him?
In this fantasy of reversal, Pollock’s slight catalogs would have to mention Benglis. He would look still in those catalog pages, like a pale, depressed, rectangle-bound web spinner, a fast-twirled-out burst to her substantiated melting and radically reforming determined flights and flows into and against architecture. We would experience Benglis’ works without precedent as what they are: paint as material without intermediary support or ground; dangling metal or sparkle knots—simultaneously freed and crippled appendages climb the wall; bright polyurethane blobs, controlled spills that drifted out until the dry-time clock expired; waxy oblongs; mid-ooze bronzes bubbling up out of corners or from a crack in the floor. One Benglis ooze is called Eat Meat, 169/75; another is called Quartered Meteor, 1969.
Pollock is a middle man. Benglis’ works in cheap-and-easy Polyurethane Foam are light- weight, fast, resilient. The metal cast versions are undoubtedly the work of the best foundries, feats of virtuosity. Because latex paint usually does not adhere well to high-gloss finishes, Benglis could make her early latex paint pours at galleries across the country and pull them right up from the floor when the show was over. Pollock comes up short with his splattered house paint on canvas.
A little more about materials: bubbles in dried paint... heating beeswax in a cold studio. Metal Spraying means propelling atomized material to create a surface coating. Or, build the armature, then guess at what will happen (based on dry-time), set some boundaries using sheets of plastic, and...
... and, what about the dildo? Greased, bikini-tanned Lynda Benglis in sunglasses holding an extra-large. two-sided dildo jutting from her crotch, her ribs, other hand on hip, breasts towards reader, s-shaped form: Lynda Benglis courtesy of Paul Cooper Gallery copyright 1974 Photo: Arthur Gordon... There is little more that can be said about the Benglis Artforum ads, except a request for more fuel. In reference to these ads, the Lynda Benglis/Robert Morris love story should be unearthed and should be told alongside and with full disclosure of the Rosalind Krauss/Robert Morris love story; this narrative should be followed by conjecture about the extent to which these personal entanglements at least contributed to the then emerging desire for and discussion around role-play, media-image critique and defiant statement/stir-up/send-up of gender as exemplified by Benglis’ and Morris’ self-portraits as Artforum exhibition announcements as litmus tests of the feminist influence on the early 1970’s New York art world. (Note Krauss’ extreme reaction to Benglis’ ad--—Krauss, among others, quit Artforum in response. Note Krauss’ role in photographing Morris’ proceeding S&M-inspired ad.) These durable, tough, humorous advertisements could have been influenced by real, if delicate, human, balancing acts.
In her infamous self-promotion, Benglis becomes hermaphrodite, neither binary male nor female, pants and skirts skeptical, not beefcake. Between spraying and pouring, Benglis seems to have had to say: I am everything, and then advertised that she was everything. Blowtorch. She was everything and so she could universally bugger everything. And/or, she was making fun. Benglis is this way in her work too, rebuffing the idea that there is female art and male art, her work is whatever it wants to be, nuanced and brash, curved and sharp and more.
For the past 40 years, Benglis has been single-minded, tenacious, absorbed in a career of mixings and risings (Working time before foaming: approx. 45 seconds), what looks like a fragile folded paper fan here made solid, more layers of pouring over, chicken wire armatures built and removed to allow for sexualized seepings to become personal histories, wings then glowing wings, suspended motions, Benglis working along, unconventional but reading her mythology, perhaps loving a statue of the God Mercury, perhaps obsessing over the gold detailing in Rogier van der Weyden’s alter painting, The Descent from the Cross, c. 1435, Benglis always--imagine--a stickler with the foundry, sending plops back for more polish.
In addition to managing every material detail and feeding all of her fascinations, imagine Benglis working along, with a seminal re-evaluative art historical essay published early in her career clapping around it the back of her head...
When Linda Nochlin’s essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” was first published in the January, 1971 ARTnews Special Issue: “Women’s Liberation, Woman Artists and Art History,” Benglis was one of the invited respondents. Benglis’ response is here, for posterity, and as contextual grounding. Some social conditions have changed since 1971. Some have not.
Social conditions can change
A person’s identity is a composite picture of one’s ideas, beliefs, infinite longings, abstractions, glances in mirrors, personal relationships, size, height, weight and color; one’s library card, driver’s license, social security number, bank account, acquired names, one’s occupying one space as opposed to another, one’s wearing of certain clothes as opposed to others, one’s taste in food, one’s sex.
How am I to simplify the composite picture “female” and “artist” in words? There is not a doubt in my mind that we still exist in a very self-conscious, sexually-repressed time. Although our culture has been and is male-dominated, the sexual experience is not unique to males nor is the art experience unique to males. Different organs and physical responses do not necessarily preclude females from the activity of art.
I feel that art is an intellectual process which both questions and affirms the very nature of being. My concerns of identity within and outside the confines of my studio or working situation have everything to do with my experience. And my experience is primarily that of an artist and I am a female.
I agree that the presence of few female artists in the past is very much a social condition not an aesthetic one. That the social condition can indeed change, that it will change through the desires of female artists to exhibit their works is a necessity, simply because there are more females choosing to do art.
With the present-day consciousness-raising on the part of feminists, I understand the need to give a kind of historical perspective to female artists. Within this kind of female-consciousness, it is possible for more women who are in the art world to give justified attention to those current works they find challenging. Continuing consciousness-raising may depend upon mutual recognition by woman artists and the extent to which they take on the responsibility of transforming the present role-situation.
Both men and women are at fault in the present social dilemma, viz., the necessity to declare oneself female and artist in the same breath. If there were more female artists, and that will depend upon their effectiveness as examples, the term “artist” would no longer imply a single sex only.
- Marcus Civin
Lynda Benglis 'Eat Meat' 1969-1975, Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York, © Lynda Benglis; Lynda Benglis, Contraband, 1969. Pigmented latex, 116 1/4 x 394 1/3 x 3 in (295.3 x 1001.6 x 7.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee and partial gift of John Cheim and Howard Reed 2008. © Lynda Benglis/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; Chiron, 2009. tinted polyurethane,51 x 35 x 17 inches; Lynda Benglis, Raptor, 1995-96 stainless steel, wire mesh and silicone bronze 46 x 77 x 13"; Phantom, 1971. Phosphorous pigmented polyurethane 102 x 420 x 96 inches 259.1 x 1066.8 x 243.8 centimeters Installation at Union Art Gallery, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas February 3-7, 1971 Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York