Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lynda Benglis at Texas Gallery

by Robert Boyd

This is kind of a funny show. Lynda Benglis is best known for one in-your-face gesture--an ad she took out in Artforum in November, 1974. In it, she is posed nude (except for sunglasses) and is holding a huge dildo in front of her crotch. It was deliberately provocative and pornographic. Like a lot of female minimalist and post-minimalist artists, Benglis was feeling a little neglected by the art establishment. Judy Chicago had a similar problem, but chose a very different way to address it.

The thing is, as far as I can tell, this didn't help her career all that much. The gesture was controversial and divisive, and it got her written into art history--but not for her artwork. (That's why I'm not going to reproduce it here. It would suck all the energy out of the other images below, which defeats the purpose of a review, no? But you can perv it at her Wikipedia entry.) Her just-closed retrospective at the New Museum was an attempt to rectify this. It was fantastic timing on the part of Texas Gallery to have a show of her work right on the heels of the New Museum's retrospective.

I walked into this show knowing nothing about Benglis except for her notorious Artforum ad. I stupidly expected a show full of sexy, provocative art. But no--that wasn't what this show was about. The first thing I saw was this piece:

Lynda Benglis
Lynda Benglis, Tickfaw, glass, 2010

Tickfaw is named after a tiny town in southern Louisiana. Benglis is from Lake Charles and studied at Tulane. All the pieces in this show are named after Louisiana towns. The name of the show is "Glass Masks", but these pieces remind me more of bottles and vases--except for the fact that they seem to be completely solid.

Now here's the weird thing. If I walked in on this show at Goldesberry Gallery, and the name of the artist was Lynda Smith, I would respond to it very differently than I do knowing that it is Lynda Benglis's work. I can't see these works without thinking about the ad, the notoriety. It inherently affects critical judgment. Would Texas Gallery have put on a show of modest but pretty glass art pieces if it weren't for the name?

Lynda Benglis
Lynda Benglis, Florien, glass, 2010

Still, knowing about her helps one understand these works. She states in a New York Times profile that growing up with Mardi Gras theatricality and especially masks influenced her work. The Louisiana place names connects this body of work to that period of her life. (Florien, like Tickfaw, is a village of fewer than 1000 people.)

Lynda Benglis
Lynda Benglis, Robeline, glass and copper, 2010

In a few pieces, Benglis mixes copper with the glass. I don't know enough about glass art to know what this does, but there was a very interesting effect I noticed. The glass is transparent, but within the glass there are structures that catch and reflect the light. This became visible when I took photos of the copper and glass pieces with my flash on. Here is a close up of Robeline without flash.

Lynda Benglis
Lynda Benglis, Robeline detail, glass and copper, 2010

And here is a close-up with flash:

Lynda Benglis
Lynda Benglis, Robeline detail, glass and copper, 2010

The dark parts (copper?) cast shadows within the glass. But in addition, you can see bright reflections within the glass as well. It's a lovely effect. I assume direct sunlight would give that kind of effect as well.

No big conclusions here. These are some nice, pretty pieces which happened to have been made by an unusually notorious artist. That's all.


1 comment:

  1. She gave me a tee shirt of the ad back when it was shocking. I wore it a few times. I sold it to a NY collector a couple yrs. ago. She and J. Chicago belong in Santa Fe. Very pretty...boring.