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Lynda Benglis Artworks

American Sculptor, Painter, Conceptual and Performance Artist

Lynda Benglis Photo
Movements and Styles: Conceptual Art, Performance Art, Feminist Art

Born: October 25, 1941 - Lake Charles, Louisiana

Artworks by Lynda Benglis

The below artworks are the most important by Lynda Benglis - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Fallen Painting (1968)

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."

Now (1973)

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.

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Psi (1973)

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.

Artforum advertisement (1974)

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.

Quartered Meteor (1969, cast 1975)

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.

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Eridanus (1984)

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.

Related Artists and Major Works

Through the Flower (1973)

Artist: Judy Chicago (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Created by the artist after Chicago's decade-long "struggl[e]... in a male-dominated art community," Through the Flower marks the artist's newfound embrace of less abstract and more accessible imagery: the female sexual organ, depicted here as a round element or opening. The painting's "trippy" opticality relates at least in part to the artist's experience with mood-altering drugs. The subject matter is radical: genitals were always demurely concealed or merely suggested in the tradition of the female nude, yet here the vaginal opening constitutes the focus of the work. Through the Flower is one of the landmark pieces of Chicago's early feminist phase. It serves as the title and cover of the artist's 1975 autobiography as well as the name of the non-profit feminist art organization she founded in 1978.

Advertisement for Castelli-Sonnabend Exhibition (1974)

Artist: Robert Morris (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This work is an advertisement for Morris's April 1974 exhibition at the Castelli and Sonnabend galleries, that was part of his continuing dialogue with the artist Lynda Benglis, with whom he had previously collaborated on film projects. In the ad, featured in Artforum magazine, Morris is seen from the waist up, flexing his muscles and outfitted only in S & M gear: a German Army helmet, aviator sunglasses, steel chains, and a spiked collar. While striking in itself, Morris's hypermasculine self-portrait is important for prompting an image that gave rise to a huge controversy on the pages of Artforum: a centerfold ad in that same magazine featuring a photograph of Benglis, naked but for a pair of sunglasses, a diamond earring, and sporting an enormous dildo. While Morris's image barely raised an eyebrow, "the Benglis ad" was met with an angry uproar that dramatically illustrated the sexual double standard. Interestingly, one of the loudest voices of condemnation against was the art critic Rosalind Krauss, who had actually photographed Morris for the Castelli-Sonnabend poster; along with other editors of Artforum, Krauss called the ad "an object of extreme vulgarity" that succeeded in "brutalizing ourselves and, we think, our readers."

Anatomy of a Kimono (1974)

Movement: Feminist Art (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Miriam Schapiro (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Anatomy of a Kimono is one of many "femmages" Schapiro created, starting in the mid-1970s, and is based on the patterns of Japanese kimonos, fans, and robes. Schapiro used the term femmage to describe works that combined collage, painting, fabric, embroidery, and other "high art" and "decorative art" techniques, simultaneously highlighting women's relation to those materials and processes.

Here, the artist collected donated handkerchiefs while touring the country and cobbled them together with other fabrics to form ten large panels filled with Japanese-inspired shapes. The work adopts the monumental scale of Abstract Expressionist canvases, but by using fabric instead of paint, Schapiro elevates a utilitarian and feminine material to the realm of "high art."

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