Like Pat Steir (Just Looking, Feb. 18, 2010), the artist whose show preceded hers at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Lynda Benglis is a creature of the Post-Minimal 1970s. She is probably best known (or notorious) for the full-page ad she took out in a 1974 issue of Artforum in which she posed entirely naked wearing sunglasses and holding a phallus between her legs.
The Artforum ad established Benglis as a feminist, provocateur, iconoclast, and innovator, one of the 1970s artists who reintroduced the hot- bodied messiness of humanity back into an American art that had become too cool and impersonal for its own good with Minimalist art devoid of content.
Now (through January 9, 2011), Lynda Benglis presents 50 works that survey Benglis’s 40 year career, beginning with the poured rubber floor “paintings” that identified Benglis as a sculptor in alternative mediums and continuing through her wire-mesh Knots of the 1970s and pleated wall sculpture of the 1980s and 1990s to more recent work, such as the cast polyurethane The Graces, ten-foot pink goblet-shaped monuments that look as though they might have been made of rock candy.
“Few people know the breadth of Lynda’s work,” writes RISD Museum curator Judith Tannebaum, “and the full extent of her oeuvre reveals how she has revisited materials and ideas over the years. She’s always been very interested in the surfaces of her works, in their textural qualities, and she has sometimes described her artmaking process as working from the outside in. And in this show, we get to see how that dynamic process has changed over four decades.”
“Lynda Benglis is best when operating at an extreme, any extreme,” observed New York Times art critic Roberta Smith in a review of Benglis’s new work in January of this year. “Her 40-year career has included extremes of color, erotic posturing, decorative flamboyance, eccentric materials and innovative processes.”
But then I seem to recall that was what the 1970s were all about – eccentricities and extremes. For art audiences and art students alike, Lynda Benglis is an opportunity to see this radical mother of invention, now approaching 70, working hard to stay out on the edge, ahead of the trends.
Lynda Benglis debuted at the Van Abbe Museum in the Netherlands in 2009, traveled to the Ireland Museum of Modern Art and Le Consorteum in Dijon, France before arriving at RISD, and will end its international run this winter at the New Museum in New York City.
[RISD Museum, 224 Benefit St., Providence RI, 401-454-6500.]