Lynda Benglis

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Lynda Benglis
Benglis from Arti.jpg
Benglis in a 1974 photograph
Born (1941-10-25) October 25, 1941 (age 73)
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Nationality American
Known for Sculptor, painter

Lynda Benglis (born October 25, 1941 in Lake Charles, Louisiana) is an American sculptor and visual artist known especially for her wax paintings and poured latex sculptures. She currently lives between New York City; Santa Fe; Kastelorizo, Greece; and Ahmedabad, India.[1]

Early life[edit]

Benglis was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana on October 25, 1941.[2] She is Greek-American.[2] Growing up her father Michael ran a building-materials business.[3] Her mother was from Mississippi and was a preacher's daughter.[4] She is the eldest of five children.[5] She earned a BFA in 1964 from Newcomb College in New Orleans, which was then the women's college of Tulane University.[6] Following graduation, she was briefly married to the art historian Michael Kempan and taught third grade at Jefferson Parish, in Louisiana.[4] In 1964 Benglis moved to New York.[4] In New York, she studied painting at the Brooklyn Museum Art School.[7] There she met the Scottish painter Gordon Hart, whom was briefly to be her second husband.[4] Benglis later stated that she married Hart to help him avoid the draft.[4] She also took a job as an assistant to Klaus Kertess at the Bykert Gallery before moving on to work at the Paula Cooper Gallery.[5]

In 1979 she met her life partner, Anand Sarabhai, on a trip to Ahmedabad, India.[5] Sarabhai passed away in February 2013.[8]


Benglis's work is noted for an unusual blend of organic imagery and confrontation with newer media incorporating influences such as Barnett Newman and Andy Warhol.[9] Her early work used materials such as beeswax before moving on to large polyurethane pieces in the 1970s and later to gold-leaf, zinc, and aluminum.[9] The validity of much of her work was questioned until the 1980s due to its use of sensuality and physicality.[10]

Like other artists such as Yves Klein, Benglis mimicked Jackson Pollock's flinging and dripping methods of painting.[11] Works such as Fallen Painting (1968) inform the approach with a feminist perspective. For this work, Benglis smeared Day-Glo paint across the gallery floor invoking "the depravity of the 'fallen' woman" or, from a feminist perspective, a "prone victim of phallic male desire".[11] These brightly colored organic floor pieces were intended to disrupt the male-dominated minimalism movement with their suggestiveness and openness.[12]

Vittorio of 1979; gold leaf, gesso, plaster, cotton, and chicken wire; in the collection of the National Gallery of Art

Like other female artists, she was attracted by the newness of a medium that was uncorrupted by male artists. The structure of the new medium itself played an important role in addressing questions about female identity in relation to art, pop culture, and dominant feminism movements at the time.[10]

Artforum advertisement[edit]

Benglis in her advertisement in the 1974 issue of Artforum

Benglis felt underrepresented in the male-run artistic community and so confronted the "male ethos" in a series of magazine advertisements satirizing pin-up girls and Hollywood actresses.[12] Benglis chose the medium of magazine advertisements as it allowed her complete control of an image rather than allowing it to be run through critical commentary.[13] This series culminated with a particularly controversial one in the November 1974 issue of Artforum featuring Benglis aggressively posed with a large latex dildo and wearing only a pair of sunglasses promoting an upcoming exhibition of hers at the Paula Cooper Gallery.[14] Benglis paid $3,000 for the Artforum ad.[15] One of her original ideas for the advertisement had been for her and collaborative partner Robert Morris (artist) to work together as a double pin-up, but eventually found that using a double dildo was sufficient as she found it to be "both male and female".[12] Morris, too, put out an advertisement for his work in that month's Artforum which featured himself in full "butch" S&M regalia.[16] Although Benglis's image is now popularly cited as an important example of gender performativity in contemporary art, it provoked mixed responses when it first appeared.[17] Artist Barbara Wagner claims that Benglis shows that even with the appropriation of the phallus as a Freudian sign of power, it does not cover her female identity and still emphasizes a female inferiority.[18] Rosalind Krauss and other Artforum personnel attacked Benglis's work in the following month's issue of Artforum describing the advertisement as "exploitative" and "brutalizing".[16] Critic Cindy Nemser of The Feminist Art Journal dismissed the advertisement as well, claiming that the picture showed that Benglis had "so little confidence in her art that she had to resort to kinky cheesecake to push herself over the top."[19] Morris's advertisement, however, generated little commentary, providing evidence for Benglis's view that male artists were encouraged to promote themselves, whereas women were chastised for doing so.[19] Benglis eventually cast five lead sculptures of the dildo that she posed with on the Artforum cover, each entitled Smile, one for each of the Artforum editors who wrote in to complain about her ad.[15]

Video Work[edit]

In 1971, Benglis began to collaborate with Robert Morris, creating Benglis's video Mumble (1972) and Morris's Exchange (1973).[10] Between 1972 and 1976 Benglis made fifteen videos of her own in which she explored a variety of themes including self-representation, sexuality, gaze, and female identity.[4] One of her more noted videos is Female Sensibility (1973), which shows the artist kissing and licking the face of fellow artist Marilyn Lenkowsky.[4] Benglis's early films are also highly edited and re-taped, which is meant to confuse the viewer by blending present and past video sequences and thus enhancing the feeling of artifice.[20] For instance, in Now (1972) (12 min, color, sound) the artist superimposes a video of herself yelling commands such as "Now!" and "Start recording!" over an older video of herself, blurring the line between documentary and performance while also making it difficult to tell which image of the artist is present, which is past, and which of these is therefore truly performing.[21]


On November 4, 2009, Benglis’s first European retrospective opened at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, in Dublin, where it ran through January 24, 2010. It then moved to Le Consortium, in Dijon, France; the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design, in Providence; and the New Museum, in New York.[22]


In 1975 Benglis was awarded with a Guggenheim Fellowship.[1] She has also received two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, one in 1979 and the other in 1990.[1]

In 2000 Benglis was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Kansas City Art Institute.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d "Lynda Benglis" PBS, Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  2. ^ a b Kreimer, Julian "Shape Shifter: Lynda Benglis" Art in America Magazine, Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  3. ^ Sheets, Hilarie M. "A Life of Melting the Status Quo" The New York Times, Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Landi, Ann. "Getting Paint Off the Wall" ARTnews, Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Belcove, Julie L. "I Keep Arriving" The Financial Times, Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  6. ^ "Cheim & Read". Lynda Benglis Artist Page. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  7. ^ "Lynda Benglis" National Museum of Women in the Arts, Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  8. ^ Zwick, Traey. "Dancing with Clay: An Interview with Lynda Benglis" Art in America Magazine, Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  9. ^ a b Krane, Susan (Spring–Summer 1992). "Lynda Benglis: Dual Natures". Woman's Art Journal (Atlanta : High Museum of Art, 1990.) 3 (1): 54. ISBN 0-939802-63-5. JSTOR 1358269. 
  10. ^ a b c Joy, C. (2007). "Benglis, Lynda". Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2007-06-24. 
  11. ^ a b Jones, Amelia (1998). Body Art/Performing the Subject. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 96–97. ISBN 0-8166-2773-8. 
  12. ^ a b c Taylor, Brandon (2005). Contemporary Art: Art Since 1970. London: Prentice Hall. pp. 29–30. ISBN 0-13-118174-2. 
  13. ^ Cohen, David; Newman, Amy (September 2002). "Challenging Art: Artforum 1962–1974". The Art Bulletin 84 (3): 535–538. doi:10.2307/3177317. JSTOR 3177317. 
  14. ^ Doss, Erika (2002). "Feminist Art and Black Art". Twentieth-Century American Art. Oxford History of Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 184. ISBN 0-19-284239-0. 
  15. ^ a b Poundstone, William. "Dear Artforum: About That Lynda Benglis Ad..." ArtInfo, Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  16. ^ a b Chave, Anna C. (2005). "Minimalism and Biography". In Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard. Reclaiming Female Agency: Feminist Art History after Postmodernism. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. pp. 390–91. ISBN 0-520-24252-1. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ Wagner, Barbara (2005). "Underneath the Clothes: Transvestites Without Vests". In Margaret Sönser Breen and Fiona Peters. Genealogies of Identity: Interdisciplinary Readings on Sex and Sexuality. New York City: Editions Rodopi BV. pp. 140–42. ISBN 90-420-1758-9. 
  19. ^ a b Buszek, Maria Elena (2006). "Our Bodies/Ourselves". Pin-up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, Popular Culture. Duke University Press. pp. 288–92. ISBN 0-8223-3746-0. 
  20. ^ "Lynda Benglis: Biography", Electronic Arts Intermix, Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  21. ^ "Now, Lynda Benglis Electronic Arts Intermix, Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  22. ^ Douglas, Sarah. “My Brilliant Career: Lynda BenglisArt+Auction, November 2009.

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