Bengalis in a 1974 photograph
October 25, 1941 |
Lake Charles, Louisiana
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.
Benglis was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana on October 25, 1941. She is Greek-American. Growing up her father Michael ran a building-materials business. Her mother was from Mississippi and was a preacher's daughter. She is the eldest of five children. She earned a BFA in 1964 from Newcomb College in New Orleans, which was then the women's college of Tulane University. Following graduation, she was briefly married to the art historian Michael Kempan and taught third grade at Jefferson Parish, in Lousiana. In 1964 Benglis moved to New York. In New York, she studied painting at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. There she met the Scottish painter Gordon Hart, whom was briefly to be her second husband. Benglis later stated that she married Hart to help him avoid the draft. 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.
Benglis' work is noted for an unusual blend of organic imagery and confrontation with newer media incorporating influences such as Barnett Newman and Andy Warhol. 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. The validity of much of her work was questioned until the 1980s due to its use of sensuality and physicality.
Like other artists such as Yves Klein, Benglis' mimicked Jackson Pollock's flinging and dripping methods of painting. 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". These brightly colored organic floor pieces were intended to disrupt the male-dominated minimalism movement with their suggestiveness and openness.
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.
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. 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. 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. Benglis paid $3,000 for the Artforum ad. 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". Morris, too, put out an advertisement for his work in that month's Artforum which featured himself in full "butch" S&M regalia. Although Benglis' image is now popularly cited as important example of gender performativity in contemporary art, it provoked mixed responses when it first appeared. 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. Rosalind Krauss and other Artforum personnel attacked Benglis' work in the following month's issue of Artforum describing the advertisement as "exploitative" and "brutalizing". 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." Morris' advertisement, however, generated little commentary, providing evidence for Benglis' view that male artists were encouraged to promote themselves, whereas women were chastised for doing so. 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.
In 1971, Benglis began to collaborate with Robert Morris, creating Benglis' video Mumble (1972) and Morris' Exchange (1973). 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. One of her more noted videos is Female Sensibility (1973), which shows the artist kissing and licking the face of fellow artist Marilyn Lenkowsky. Benglis' 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. 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.
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.
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