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More on Lynda Benglis at the New Museum

February 22, 2011

Artful Commentary, Oozing From the Walls

By ROBERTA SMITH

Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

Lynda Benglis embraced the move to flowing forms among artists of her generation but rejected the drabness of the period. Her “Phantom” (1971) is part of an exhibition at the New Museum. More Photos »

The New Museum has become a busy place this year, and it is not yet even March. In January it opened a popular tribute to the market-hardy paintings of George Condo. Now it is offering a startlingly excellent resurrection of the prescient Post-Minimalist renegade Lynda Benglis and her gaudy, multidexterous and often gender-bending segues among Process, Performance and Body Art.

Ms. Benglis is something of a mythic character, as many female artists of the 1960s and early ’70s are by now. Working in pigmented latex, beeswax or polyurethane foam and even glitter, she made daring, often ephemeral or fragile works that have plenty of historical weight but little market presence.

Permanence seems to have been the last thing on her mind, at least in the early years. Many pieces were temporary installations that did not survive; others had the kind of willful fragility that makes collectors nervous. One of her most famous works is nothing but a brilliantly orchestrated magazine ad: a performance-slash-photograph that ran in the November 1974 issue of Artforum for which she posed, taut and well-oiled, wearing only a pair of rhinestone-studded cat-eye sunglasses and wielding a dildo.

Ms. Benglis was born near New Orleans in Lake Charles, La., in 1941. Her father was the American-born son of Greek immigrants who returned to their homeland, and she visited her grandmother in Megisti, on the Greek island of Kastellorizo, several times as a child and young woman. The decorative bravado of New Orleans Mardi Gras and the figurative tradition of Classical Greek sculpture are two points on the aesthetic compass worth keeping in mind when encountering her works.

After studying art at the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College for Women at Tulane University in New Orleans, she arrived in New York in the mid-1960s and proceeded to become something of an art star. In 1970 she was anointed by Life magazine, with an article that compared her to Jackson Pollock. It showed her pouring big, bright, irresistible slurps of latex on the floor, making a resolutely abstract installation piece that spoke loud and clear of its own making. Borrowing variously from Abstract Expressionism, Color Field painting, Pop Art and Minimalism in their embrace of process, vivid, physically intrinsic color and nontraditional materials, the poured-latex pieces look these days about as bona-fide Post-Minimalist as you can get.

Read more at: Artful Commentary, Oozing From the Walls

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