American sculptor Lynda Benglis (born in 1941) has defied prevailing views on the nature and function of art for more than 40 years. The new exhibition Lynda Benglis at the RISD Museum is composed of more than 50 works that represent the breadth of her remarkable output, dating from the 1960s through today. The RISD Museum is the first of only two North American venues for this major survey show.
Lynda Benglis is known for pioneering and challenging work that questions the rigors of Modernism and Minimalism by merging material, form, and content. The current exhibition at the RISD Museum includes her wax paintings and poured latex and polyurethane foam sculptures from the late 1960s; innovative videos, installations, and “knots” from the 1970s; metalized, pleated wall pieces from the 1980s and ’90s; and more recent works in a variety of mediums, such as the monumental cast-polyurethane The Graces.
Zita, from the Sparkle Knot series, 1972 Cotton bunting, plaster, acrylic paint and glitter over aluminium screen 34 Â½ x 38 Â½ x 13 Â½ in. Courtesy Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Lynda Benglis’s work reminds me of how kids make art–oftentimesÂ playing with their materials as they create and consumed with the process and the exploration of the materials and colors.Â This playful experimentation is full of discoveries and tactile sensations as relevant as the final product. When adults dictate how art supplies can and should be used and ask budding artists questions like “What is it?” or label the finished piece as a nice “house,” we are telling children that there is a right and wrong way to make art and risk altering or influencingÂ how they approach their next project.
RISD’s retrospective of Benglis’s work makes it evident that she resisted such labels and refused to be confined to a prescribed notion of what art is and who can make it. Lynda was a pioneer who experimented with different materials in unconventional ways.
When you take your kids to see the Lynda Benglis exhibit at the RISD Museum (or any art exhibit for that matter), listen to what they have to say about the art before you share your thoughts. They may surprise you with what they focus on, what they they like, and how they feel about the art.
Lynda Benglis Panhard, 1989 Copper over stainless steel mesh 72 x 39 x 18 in. Â© Lynda Benglis. DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2009 Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York
Benglis’s work is sculptural, large, and colorful and frequently has aÂ textural quality. You will find her work on the floor and leaping off the wall. I wish every piece had a behind-the-scenes video or photo of how Lynda constructed the piece. Seeing the colors mix and swirl together as she poured latex on the floor is as much art to me as seeing the finished piece.
I love the series of “sparkle knots”–made with cotton bunting, plaster, acrylic paint, and glitter over metal screens–and metalized knots that were sprayed with zinc, aluminum, or copper. The material is looped and tied to create bow-like forms. The knots are arranged on the wall at different heights creating a playful dance. I am curious what my children would create given fabric, plaster, paint, and glitter?
Lynda Benglis (installation image on view October 1, 2010 until January 9, 2011 Photograph courtesy of Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design Phantom, 1971 Polyurethane foam with phosphorescent pigments 8 Â½ x 35 x 8 ft. (approximate installation dimensions) Â© Lynda Benglis. DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2009 Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Kansas State University, Manhattan, and private collection, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York
The highlight of the show is the amazing five-piece Phantom installation. Never before displayed together, the work is made from polyurethane foam covered with phosphorescent paint andÂ flows out from the wall like a waterfall. Phantom is located in a curtained-off room with the lights set on a two-minute time delay. Make sure you stick around for the glow-in-the-dark experience–very cool.
Other favorite works in the exhibit include The Graces, Panhard, Zanzidae, and Chiron.
Lynda Benglis (installation image on view October 1, 2010 until January 9, 2011 Photograph courtesy of Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design The Graces, 2003-5 Cast polyurethane, lead, stainless steel 103 x 24 3/8 x 26 in.; 113 x 21 Â½ x 23 in.; 95 x 30 x 27 in. Â© Lynda Benglis. DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2009 Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York
Benglis is also known for questioning gender stereotypes. One section of the exihibit is dedicated to her experimentation in video and photography. This body of work contains some explicit content. Benglis has long used media as a means of controlling her image and highlighting and challenging gender and power imbalances. Her most famous and explicit gesture, a two-page spread that appeared in Artforum magazine in November 1974, cemented her position as a provocateur in the American art world.
Note to parents: Because of the suggestive nature (nudity and sexual references) of some of the photo and video content, you may choose to skip this small section of the exhibit. Depending on the age of your children, however, you could use this part of the exhibit as a teachable moment–a lesson on feminism–explaining how Benglis’s controversial photo (a paid advertisement) in Artforum was a statement about how she felt women in the art world were treated during the ’70s. In response to only men being covered in the editorial section of the magazine, Benglis posed naked and adorned her body to resemble a man’s to emphasize the inequalities that existed for women artists. I applaud Benglis’s tenacity in pushing/questioning gender boundaries and fighting to make women’s rolesÂ more equal and respected today. A powerful message to share with our children in some form.
After seeing the Lynda Benglis exhibit at the RISD Museum of Art, plan to have plenty of art materials waiting for your child at home. Cover the table or floor with plastic. Surround your children with fabrics, paint, paper, netting, glue, glitter, and clay and see what they can create.
The Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, is pleased to present Lynda Benglis, a retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work from the 1960s to the present day.Â On view October 1, 2010, until January 9, 2011. Exhibition organized by the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, in collaboration with Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Le Consortium, Dijon; Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; and New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. Exhibition tour made possible by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.