Monday, October 15, 2012

Mardi Gras and Flying Kites: Some Thoughts about Lynda Benglis (NSFW)

Virginia Billeaud Anderson

Among the numerous articles written about Lynda Benglis around the time of her 2011 New Museum retrospective was "Lynda Benglis: Still in Art’s Avant-Garde" published in the New York Times. In it Hilarie Sheets stated that Benglis continues to bring “a visceral quality to her experimentations with glass, video, metals, ceramics, gold leaf, paper and plastics.”

Now Sheets is a very important writer whose critical commentary I’ve admired for years, but if Benglis’ glass sculpture Tickfaw (2010) is one the experimentations upon which Sheets based her statement, I’m certain the critic did not understand the meaning of that work’s title. A New York writer can’t possibly know Tickfaw, Louisiana. Benglis’ titling of her glass piece after a secluded south Loos-iana swampy bayou constitutes mockery of art world grandiosity and a bit of fun in the face of collectors and critics.

Being ignorant of the fact that she could drive her boat to the Prop Stop’s wet T-shirt contest, and ride in Blood River Marina’s Mardi Gras boat parade would not have prevented Sheets from understanding that Tickfaw was saturated with allusions. The concentrated symbolism which defines Benglis’ art stretches back to Contraband (1969) in which acid trip colors irreverently affronted Serra and Ryman’s macho monochrome minimalist sculptures while alluding to oil-polluted bayous.

Lynda Benglis, Tickfaw, 2010, glass, pigment, mixed media, size unknown

Some of Benglis’ associations have been elusive. The bronze and polyurethane sculptures exhibited a couple of years back at Cheim & Read in New York were titled after Swinburne. The English writer Swinburne, critic Alfred MacAdam pointed out, had sadomasochistic tendencies, and these combined with his “astonishing delicacy,” MacAdam wrote, could be seen “as the intellectual and esthetic background of Benglis’s wall pieces, some of which vaguely suggest a female figure that had been burned and then preserved as a precious relic.” MacAdam found bronze surfaces reminiscent of rope, evoking bondage, another Swinburne connection, and breast-shaped polyurethane to constitute homage to fertility.

MacAdam would have been guided by Benglis’s explanation of the organic fluidity of her floor sculptures, which evoked "the depravity of the 'fallen' woman" or, from a feminist perspective, a "prone victim of phallic male desire".

Erotic preoccupations were more strait-forward in 2007 when the same gallery demonstrated affinities between Benglis’s globby wrinkled forms and the older Louise Bourgeois’ sexual sculptural forms. Both artists made penises in bronze.

As one would expect that 2007 exhibition displayed the famous 1974 Artforum ad image, which Benglis devised to address male domination of the early 70s art world. Benglis has said in interviews that much research and planning went into the ad’s construction. She probably could not have imagined the image would still be generating dialogue almost forty years later. "Sizing Up the Dildo: Lynda Benglis' Artforum Advertisement as a Feminist Icon" is one example of the sort of lofty exhortation it inspires.

Benglis also could not have anticipated New Museum retrospective curators writing that her “singular practice both intersected with and transcended the categories of post-Minimalism and feminist art.” Or that she would influence numerous younger artists such as Cindy Sherman and Matthew Barney.

Lynda Benglis, Artforum ad, 1974

Although I’ve seen the Artforum ad image many times, it still causes my mouth to fly open. The wrinkles and veins in that astounding prick are a primary stylistic element in Benglis’ art.

Lynda Benglis, The Graces, 2003-2005, Cast polyeurethane, lead, stainless steel, 103 x 26 x26

On September 7, Inman Gallery opened the exhibition Paper Space: Drawings by Sculptors (through October 29) which includes Benglis’ 1979 Untitled (#26). It’s easy to see how the drawing’s purple columnar form anticipates later sculptures such as the totemic biomorphic Graces, and looks ahead to the glass works. Wanting to know more about Benglis’ drawing I contacted Inman.

Lynda Benglis, Untitled (#26), 1979, collage on handmade paper, 26 x 33 inches

It turns out Inman Gallery took Benglis’ drawing on consignment from Texas Gallery for the drawing exhibition, so Texas Gallery kindly passed on a bit of insight. The pink “mask” form and the green and gold foil elements relate to the Mardi Gras Benglis saw in her Louisiana upbringing. Mardi Gras would have been inescapable when the artist studied at Newcomb. Benglis has spoken clearly about the impact of Mardi Gras on her aesthetic.

According to Texas Gallery the drawing also relates to Benglis’ Atlanta Airport commission titled Patang. And also to collages and works on paper in the 1979-1980 Patang series, which included thread, fabric and foil decorative objects.

Further, passages in the drawing relate to kites in India, which have faces and eyes as decorative elements. “Patang" is also the title of a recent movie about the largest kite festival in India, which takes place in Ahmedabad where Benglis lives part of the year with her husband Anand Serabai. Texas Gallery directed me to kite festival images.

Kite Festival - Ahmedabad India


1 comment:

  1. What a photo you post here? It is so much exciting and funny. Nice to see this.