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Lynda Benglis

Lynda Benglis in her Bowery studio, ca. 1981. Photo credit: Eeva-Inkeri.

Lynda Benglis was born in 1941 in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She received a BFA in painting from Newcomb College, Tulane University in New Orleans in 1964. That same year, she moved to New York City, where she continues to spend much of her time.

Benglis came to prominence after participating in her first group exhibition in 1969. She is often considered alongside Postminimal artists such as Eva Hesse and Richard Serra who likewise gained recognition at that time, although she has never considered herself to be a purely Postminimal artist. Her first recognized bodies of work include her wax paintings and poured latex paintings, in which she first illustrated her continued interest in blending painting and sculpture. In the wax paintings, Benglis brushed layers of pigmented beeswax and damar resin onto a lozenge-shaped wooden support, allowing the irregularities of each brushstroke to build into a sculptural surface. For a small group of wax paintings, Benglis used a blowtorch as a brush, manipulating the colors to create a marbleized surface. The poured latex sculptures were a natural outgrowth of these formal explorations. For these works, which are probably her most well-known, Benglis discarded traditional supports and instead poured vibrantly colored latex directly on the floor. The act of pouring the material, which was documented in an important profile in Lifemagazine in 1970, recalled Abstract Expressionist predecessors such as Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler. 

During this period, Benglis also worked with pigmented polyurethane foam. This foam would be piled into globular forms over temporary armatures and often position in corners or up against walls. In 1971, Benglis created six large-scale installations using this process. Polyurethane foam being an inherently ephemeral material, Benglis eventual cast a number of these sculptures in more permanent media. Throughout the ‘70s and into the subsequent decades, these investigations evolved into more elaborate inquiries into form and material as she began to fold wire mesh by hand into knots or pleats, which would then be gilded or, later, sprayed with layers of molten zinc, aluminum, or copper to create a shell-like surface that is highly polished and conveys a sense of voluptuous form and movement.

In the early 1970s, Benglis was among the first artists to work with video as a medium. Her video works feature performative actions and technological mediations that explore numerous themes from sexuality to narcissism. Perhaps Benglis’s most well-known endeavor took place in 1974 when she purchased a double-page advertisement in the November issue of Artforum. The ad—in which Benglis is featured oiled up and utterly nude save for a pair of sunglasses, holding a double-sided dildo—spoke to the male-dominated nature of the art world and challenged assumptions about self-presentation and gender.

Over the course of her more than five-decade-long career, Benglis has consistently pushed the boundaries of sculpture through her focus on material, creating a sensory experience for her viewers that challenges their perception of what is in front of them.

Benglis currently lives and works between New York, New York; Santa Fe, New Mexico. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975 and has received two National Endowment for the Arts Grants in 1979 and 1990. Between 2009-2011, Benglis was the focus of a retrospective that traveled to Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Irish Museum of Art, Dublin; Le Consortium, Dijon; RISD Museum, Providence; the New Museum, New York; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Her work is held in the most prominent museum collections in the world, including the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among many others.

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