- Lynda Benglis: Beyond ProcessOur PickBy Susan Richmond
- Lynda BenglisBy Dave Hickey and Elisabeth Lebovici
Progression of Art
This work is around 30ft long and dates from a breakthrough period in Benglis's career. The artist poured latex rubber pigment in brightly-colored hues onto the floor of her studio. Unlike conventional oil or acrylic paint, the rubber remained in the shape of the artist's spill, preserving her gesture, and needed no canvas. It was a self-sufficient artwork. As Susan Richmond points out, "each pour was the product of a complex choreography, necessitating a balance of spontaneity and precision, not to mention physical endurance, as the artist frequently wielded five-gallon cans of the pigmented medium." The resulting form is sculptural; it is meant to be exhibited on the floor, and takes up a significant portion of the space in which the work is exhibited. For feminist scholar and art historian Amelia Jones, Fallen Painting is about "the depravity of the fallen woman", and resembles a "prone victim of phallic male desire."
Pigmented Latex Rubber - Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York
Lynda Benglis made several video pieces in the 1970s, when she was working at the University of Rochester and could use the school's equipment. Now is the most well-known of these works, and made a significant impact on the field of video art and critical theory. The screen shows the artist standing in front of a monitor, viewing another recording of herself inside it. These dual versions of the artist talk throughout the film, while the artist's voice can be heard in an additional voiceover. Throughout the film, these three different versions of the artist shout instructions and questions, such as: "now!", "now?", "start recording", and "do you wish to direct me?" The theme of auto-eroticism is palpable. At one point Benglis French-kisses her double inside the monitor. The overall effect is disorienting, yet sensuous, beckoning the viewer into the self-referential world of the video. It was the inspiration for Rosalind Krauss' seminal essay on video art, 'Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism.' (1976) As Krauss acknowledged, Benglis had broken new ground in examining how the artist's voice and image might act as subject, object, and raw material for the artwork.
Video (Color, Sound) - Museum of Modern Art
One of a series of works named after letters of the Greek alphabet, Psi is a sculptural knot made from various materials. Its twisting shapes are heavily reminiscent of organs or intestines. The momentum inherent in its never-ending form takes the eye on an endless journey. Like Now (1973), Benglis' film of the same year, it is self-referential, self-contained, and apparently infinite. Here the use of glitter, a distinctly "girlish" material, invites the viewer to consider the work from a gendered perspective, but is simultaneously confrontational about why the viewer makes assumptions about the gendering of the material in the first place.
Aluminum, cotton bunting, plaster, silver paint, enamel, and "sparkles" - Cheim and Read Gallery, New York
After being refused editorial space in Artforum, an eminent art magazine, the enraged Benglis paid for an advertisement that consisted of a full-page photograph of herself, nude except sunglasses, and masturbating with an oversized double-ended dildo. It was the ultimate F--- you to the art world, and one that became so famous it has often eclipsed the rest of her art.
The advertisement was in part a response to an earlier ad by her friend, Robert Morris, who featured an equally sensational image: himself, naked from the waist up, bound in S&M regalia. Both images were intended to highlight the absurdity of the sort of hyper-masculinity that dominated the art world. As Richard Meyer has put it, what was particularly shocking about the image was "its refusal to fall comfortably into either a feminist critique of pornography or a pornographic critique of feminism". The artist's active, even hostile stance, cropped hair, and of course, her penis, do not conform to the conventional guidelines of heterosexual eroticism, some feminists felt she was too willing to make a joke out of deep divisions in the art world, capitalizing on the attractiveness of her own spectacular body.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, library collection
This work, cast in lead in 1975, was based on an earlier composition created in Benglis' studio. In the earlier sculpture, she used her signature technique: pouring polyurethane into the corner of her studio, and allowing the effects of gravity to shape the slowly hardening substance, forming its sloping, rounded edges. The bottom and two sides are essentially a cast of the space created by the walls and floor.
In seeking to minimize her control over the work, her process is aligned with that of action painters (Pollock, for example, or Helen Frankenthaler, who put their canvases directly on the floor and dripped or poured the paint directly over it). Like the Abstract Expressionists, she welcomed the unpredictability of this process. She takes the process a step further, making a sculpture out of paint.
The work also challenges our preconceived notions about materials. Lead is characteristically hard and heavy, properties that are at odds with the malleability of the polyurethane sculpture on which this is based. Critic and curator Elisabeth Lebovici argues that Benglis constantly pursues an "extraordinary undermining operation" in her works. In recasting this work in lead, she undermined her own earlier use of materials, calling into question the nature of hard and soft, and alerting us to the changing nature of her process.
Lead - Tate Modern, London
In the 1980s Benglis continued to work with metal, but added wire, zinc, corrugated aluminium and other lighter materials that could be folded, bent, or twisted. These lighter, wall-mounted pieces resemble knots or folded ribbons, a significant departure from her earthbound pieces. Eridanus, a knot-like form, hovers over the surface of the wall with the apparent lightness of a paper flower. In her choice and manipulation of materials, she remained focused on the tension between masculine and feminine characteristics, using metal (a traditionally masculine substance) to evoke ribbon, associated with frilly femininity. Here as in Psi, Greek culture is a source of inspiration - Eridanus is a mythological river.
Bronze, zinc, copper, aluminum, wire - National Museum of Women in the Arts