This generously illustrated monograph on American sculptor Lynda Benglis was published to coincide with her traveling retrospective, now at the New Museum in New York through June 19. An excellent reference for those planning to see the show and a comprehensive resource, the catalogue provides a complete overview of Benglis’s work and life from the 1960s to present, with 20 essays, some newly commissioned. In “A House Built in a Body: Lynda Benglis’s Early Work,” which explores the artist’s early wax and polyurethane pieces, Dave Hickey characterizes Benglis as a radical, rebellious new breed of artist, stating, “Male artists have always been welcoming to female artists—except for artists like Lynda Benglis, Hannah Wilke, Bridget Riley, and Joan Mitchell whose sheer talent and erotic charisma scared the hell out of everybody, women included.”
“Artist statements” from Cindy Sherman, Annette Messager, Richard Tuttle, Carl Ostendarp, Ron Gorchov, Keith Sonnier, and John Baldessari make a fascinating addition. Each individual contributes a brief thought on Benglis, and Sherman introduces the section revisiting the notorious November 1974 Artforum controversy: “Seeing Lynda Benglis’s ad in Artforum in 1974 was one of the most pivotal moments of my career. I was in college in Buffalo and even the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, which was one of the few local places to buy the magazine…had ripped out that page in the issues they were selling…She kicked ass!”
This nicely organized section reprints the infamous centerfold, which displays a tanned and naked Benglis brandishing a dildo; it also includes archival images of a censored copy of the magazine, letters to the editor from shocked readers, statements from a group of associate editors who wrote to distance themselves from the decision to publish the work, and a selection of Polaroid outtakes. There are also previously unpublished letters of support from the Center for Feminist Art Historical Studies in Los Angeles and a telegram from Milan in which Vito Acconci expresses his admiration for how Benglis “bypass[ed] editorial censorship.”
The next two essays, “Lynda Benglis: All that Matters” by Elisabeth Lebovici and “Lynda Benglis: Clandestine Performer” by Judith Tannenbaum, examine Benglis’s video and photo work of the ’70s, with Tannenbaum in particular anchoring her analysis by contextualizing Benglis within the feminist art atmosphere of that time by including images and references to Cindy Sherman and Carolee Schneemann.
Caroline Hancock’s “Medusa in Ecstasy” explores Benglis’s Greek heritage and Greece as a source of inspiration—a biographical focus that continues in a wide-ranging conversation between Benglis and curator Seungduk Kim, one of the catalogue editors. Their discussion begins with Benglis’s early days in New York and moves on to the evolution of her creative process and, of course, the Artforum ad. She says, “It was important for me to present the sexuality of both a man and a woman together symbolically.” Benglis talks quite a bit about her teaching career, which she has kept up, saying that contact with young artists is of continued importance to her. She also discusses her travels to India and her public and private commissions there, including the red brick sculptures made for the Sarabhai family in Ahmedabad, which are revered by locals.
The last word comes from Baldessari, who writes, “I consider Lynda Benglis to be one of the most innovative living sculptors in the United States.” His text appears opposite a full-page photograph of Chiron (2009), a bright-orange urethane piece that demonstrates Benglis’s ongoing creative force. A chronology by Diana Franssen charts the major moments in Benglis’s career, extensively cataloguing every group and solo exhibition.
Full-page photographs of the sculptures run through the book, which also includes a generous selection of process shots showing her at work as she creates such seminal pieces as Phantom (1971). Well-organized and invaluable in its content (particularly the previously unpublished material), Lynda Benglis is the kind of exhibition catalogue that can stand on its own.
edited by Franck Gautherot, Caroline Hancock, and Seungduk Kim
Dijon: Les Presses du Réel: 2010
Hardcover, 455 pages, $60.