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Lynda Benglis

 (born 1941)
Lynda Benglis is active/lives in New York, New Mexico / Greece, India.  Lynda Benglis is known for sculpture-knot shaped 'environments', fountains, graphics.

Lynda Benglis

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Lynda Benglis
In the summer of 1964, Lynda Benglis, described "as a very canny young woman from Louisiana, Tulane BFA in hand", made her way to New York on a bus filled with anti-Jim Crow activists on their way home from Mississippi.

She lost her Southern accent as fast as she could and enrolled at the Brooklyn Museum Art School; within a few months, it seems, she knew almost everyone in the art world.  Her blunt manner must have been balanced by considerable charm if, as the story goes, she really got away with telling David Hockney, at one of his openings, that his drawings were good but that he ought to forget about his paintings.  She also recommended to Dan Flavin, still making painted boxes with light-bulbs sticking out, that maybe he could lose the boxes, which he eventually did.

The New York art world was smaller then with "nobody was going to these openings," Benglis recalls, so it was relatively easy for a smart, ambitious young woman to meet the people who mattered. After a semester, the Museum School had outlived its usefulness for her, and she began making her way as an artist.  By the latter part of the 60s, she was investigating process-oriented paintings in wax on board and working part-time for Klaus Kertess at the Bykert Gallery ("I had to bring my own typewriter').

Later, she worked as a waitress, and it was this job that brought in enough money for her to buy the quantities of latex paint she needed to make her first poured works, described as breakthrough pieces (actually just a furthering of dated 19th century "art for art's sake" and early 20th century Dadaist anti-art theories). One of these works, recently re-exhibited at the Locks Gallery in Philadelphia, is titled Odalisque: Hey Hey Frankenthaler, made in 1969.

The same year, Benglis was invited to participate in "Anti-Illusion: Procedures/Materials," conceived by the Whitney Museum of American Art and curators Marcia Tucker and James Monte. She proposed a big "spill" piece (Contraband, 1969). But there was a hitch:  When she explained that her bright colors would pop out in a brilliant way against the Museum's black stone floor, the curators realized that, while Benglis might have been as interested in procedures and materials as Robert Morris, Richard Serra and the rest, she was also just as interested in illusion, a no-no for the anti-realist prejudices of the contemporary Whitney.

At least that's how Benglis remembers it. Tucker, for her part, recalls that the work, unlike the artist's original proposal, was just too big.  As a compromise, Benglis later told critic Carter Ratcliff: "They offered to build a ramp for it, near the entrance to the Museum, to sort of get it off to one side." But, rather than allow her work to be marginalized, she withdrew it from the show.

By that time, though, the catalogue had already gone to press, so there her work remained, which has occasionally led to its being discussed as if it had been in the exhibition.  Just after "Anti-Illusion" opened, Benglis showed a similar latex work at Bykert, Bounce, 1969, a "strange and startling colored spread" that was seen, in an Artforum magazine review, as "a kind of painting entirely freed from an auxiliary ground or armature."

Several iconic images come to mind when some think of Lynda Benglis: her decorative, gilded knots of the late 70s, for instance.  And, of course, the notorious ad that graced (or disgraced, depending on the beholder) ArtForum in November 1974, the one with the artist sporting a dildo, an image so outrageous to some that it caused an irreparable rift among the magazine's editors.

But for many viewers, the first image the name Benglis conjures will be one of her aforementioned "spills"expanses of multicolored latex paint poured on the floor in the late 1960s.  In the continuing, unlikely art-theoretical gyrations of contemporary critics, such works have been seen as a development stemming from the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock and the poured paintings of the Color Field movement, as if Benglis's endeavors merited a place in some logical art historical stream of stylistic consciousness, rather than being just another Dadaist-inspired, assault on art.

Two decades after the Whitney's "Anti-Illusion: Procedures/Materials" show, the Museum would make up for Benglis's absence then by including her in its 1990 survey, "The New Sculpture 1965-75: Between Geometry and Gesture."  Benglis's first big one-person show would take place at the Paula Cooper Gallery the next year.  She would also be included, along with Eva Hesse, Richard Serra and Richard Van Buren, in a Life magazine article called "Fling, Dribble and Drip," continuing that publication's publicizing of a hyped avant-garde deemed newsworthy since their earlier article on "Jack the Dripper," (Jackson Pollock).

Barry Schwabsky, Artforum, October 2002

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Lynda Benglis
Lynda Benglis is a highly visible sculptor whose public works 'dot' sites across the United States. She was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and now resides in New York City and Santa Fe.

She received her B.F.A. from Sophie Newcomb College and the Max Beckman Scholarship from Brooklyn Museum, 1965, and has exhibited in museums and galleries in the United States and in Europe.

Lynda Benglis has also worked extensively in video* and has experimented with printmaking, cast paper, painting, drawing, and ceramics.  Her work has included labels such as expressionist*, feminist*, exhibitionist, Pop*, funk*, minimalist*, and post-minimalist*.

According to critic Marlena Donohoe, "Benglis' belief that art is about rich organic gesture has remained a theme over the last decade of knots.  We can see this interest in these drapery-like convolutions caught in metallic freeze frames, which often suggest strange life forms or the processes of nature that are eruptive and generative."


Biography from Storm King Art Center
Lynda Benglis

Lynda Benglis produced a series of intricate knots made from tubes of wire screening throughout the 1970s. Nu is titled after the Greek letter—a reference to Benglis’s Greek background. This relatively small, abstract, indoor work was acquired for Storm King’s permanent collection in 1974, shortly after it was seen in the artist’s one-person exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York.

Although the form is clearly visible in Nu, it also captures something inaccessible and unknowable. Its materials are far from obvious, with its rigid metal surface and contradictory organic curves. The sculpture is constructed from several layers, beginning with an aluminum screen, overlaid with cheesecloth, and then covered with plaster, which was still wet when she tied the resulting cylinder into Nu’s double knot. Benglis worked with airplane technicians in Los Angeles to metalize her knot pieces, first spraying on a layer of zinc and then a layer of tin. Finishing touches to Nu include a few coats of spray paint and flecks of metallic sparkle.

Benglis gained notice in the late 1960s with her gestural works of poured latex and foam. Her practice did not fit neatly within the sharp aesthetics of Minimalism or the overt politics of feminist art of the time. Exploiting the physicality of form, Benglis continues to employ a wide range of materials—from plastics and cast glass to paper and gold leaf—to render dynamic impressions of mass and surface that blur the distinction between hard and soft, flaccid and firm. Her latest sculptures reveal a striking sense of immediacy and physicality even as they seem to defy gravity, and continue to use the body and landscape as primary references.

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About  Lynda Benglis

Born:  1941 - Lake Charles, Louisiana
Known for:  sculpture-knot shaped 'environments', fountains, graphics

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Lynda Benglis

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