The iconoclastic American sculptor Lynda Benglis has always challenged the status quo, whether flouting the tenets of Minimalism in her early spilled-latex works or taking a dig at the male-dominated art world with her infamous 1974 Artforum magazine ad — a photograph of herself, naked and holding an outsize dildo — or in her more recent process-oriented pieces. On November 4, the 68-year-old artist’s first European retrospective opens at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, in Dublin, where it runs through January 24, after which it travels 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. On the 19th of this month, a show of her new works, which continue to demonstrate a preoccupation with materials and with nature, opens at her New York gallery, Cheim & Read, where it remains on view through December 19. From her eastern Long Island studio, Benglis spoke with Sarah Douglas about her 40-year career.
I never thought of myself as a feminist. I’m a woman, and I act upon that premise, but it was more that I was interested in my approach to materials as a woman. Perhaps only a woman could have thought of the idea of pouring latex, for instance, in the sense of painting as something pouring from the body.
Artforum ad, 1974
My mother said, "They’ll remember you for this." I knew the outcome, but I knew I was presenting a future challenge for myself — for my work — to keep developing. I’ve never regretted it.
Painting or Sculpture?
Quartered Meteor, 1969/75
When I studied art history, I was struck by Bernard Berensons idea of painterliness. I thought, "What is the physicality of a work that happens to be a painting? What if the material could take over and you could still have an illusion on the floor or against the wall? What if you created the texture that became the form, and that became sculpture?"
I grew up in Louisiana, where there are many crustaceans. The crawfish and crabs have a certain kind of spiny exoskeleton. I like the idea of something soft inside and hard on the outside. As I developed these forms and made works that were larger and more buoyant, I no longer thought of them as vessels but as personifications or symbols or even beings.
The Graces, 2003-05
I’ve been developing the idea of fountains, vessels that can contain water and that fill up and drip. I’ve been using urethane because it can both absorb and give off light. I’m after that translucent quality we see in sunsets and sunrises and the moon when it’s full. All my ideas come directly from nature.
Works from the "Hotspots" series are reminiscent of things that I would see while diving, like a type of coral that was very continuous linearly. I became very taken with brain coral, so-called for its shape. My mother died after a series of strokes, and the "Hotspots" also developed out of that association with the brain and strokes.
"My Brilliant Career: Lynda Benglis" originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of Art+Auction. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Art+Auction's November 2009 Table of Contents.