Gallery of locks
May 19 – July 22, 2022
Spanning five decades of creative output, Lynda Benglis’ solo exhibition at Locks Gallery in Philadelphia is an intoxicating and joyous encounter with the artist’s uncompromising creative practice. A curated selection of early abstract objects, along with recently completed work from his two US studios (New York and Santa Fe) and Kastellorizo workshop in Greece, make up the extensive exhibition; the two-story retrospective reveals the critical range of Benglis’ alchemical practice.
The artist’s lifelong (and invigorating) romance with form (less so) and texture pervades his visual texts. A luscious anti-language vernacular and voluminous inventiveness abound in these mini-monuments. Glowing phosphorescent shapes and polygonal sculptures of molten wax, an exuberant sap of messy rainbow colors and shimmering polyurethane quasi-paints (the reformulated drops of Benglis’ Abstract Expressionism) are no irony ironic, but rather surprising, unique. -kind works of art. While the artist’s affinity for the grandeur of post-minimalism endures, his work is above all an urgent reminder to viewers: tactility and desire breathe lightest in the intervening spaces of suspension.
Most impressive, then, is Benglis’ tireless sense of playfulness and imaginative receptivity. The beauty of humor – and its accompanying Eros – seeps into almost every construction assembled at Locks Gallery. At 80, the process of the inexorable innovator and trans experimental mode of manufacture resonates most in its iconic, camp-like aesthetic.
Take blue pair (1972) as the point of origin. Formally identifying more with avant-garde sculpture than with traditional mural painting, blue pair is a consummate early example of Benglis’ foray into the vernacular of Abstract Expressionism. Contemporary design references point to Eva Hesse and Helen Frankenthaler, Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman. However, the chimeric, resinous aquatic amoeba form offers an inexplicable confrontation with the unknown. In this strange vertical system of scrapings of wax remains fits a hybridization of painting and sculpture. Synthesis is the primordial life force: in the wavy sheen and translucent layers of striated aquamarine, blue pair unveils a mirror landscape of jellyfish both of the stars and of ourselves, of the human and the otherworldly.
Tempered bows and twisted fans, the flying trapeze birds of Kearny Street Bows and Fans (1985) defy gravity. Chronologically ordered, the wall installation is weightless: it is as if the seriality of the compositions and their rhythmically pleated folds hold the memory. Like a slaying of crows, the bronze, nickel and chrome fossils eerily levitate too, the sculpture looking ready to take flight. Maybe their flight path leads to Benglis 2013 Pink lady (for Asha), a formidable facility some 150 miles north of Storm King. Here, metal arches rub shoulders with pink totems: an ideal nesting place for sleeping.
Stainless Wax (2007) is based on a non-descriptive blackboard. Emerging from the waistline of these horizontal tableaux, a larval grove of fifteen spindly sculptures heralds their own trans-organic, extraterrestrial presence. Benglis’ metallic totem objects (a unique blend of stainless steel and polyurethane) stand tall even in the face of their own crumpled drops and volcanically smooth crevices. More than just charismatic bravado, however, erased phallic objects are both pitifully wise objects. This kind of hermaphroditic interweaving – a oscillation between stoic confrontation and reflexive shyness – is also integral to Benglis’ fame as a master liquid pourer. In the wake of 9/11, one can’t help but imagine the stains of tragedy seeping through its towers of volcanic steel – victors and vanquished together humbly posted on fifteen identical black pedestals.
Contingency, for Benglis, a highly motivated aesthetic gesture that embraces chance through the liveliness of fluid materiality, pervades Stainless Wax with creature viscera. Most unusual is how a deep humor flows over the polished surfaces of these finished, yet still formless talismanic swords. Adding to this mutability and joy, just below Stainless Wax is a flocked iteration of Benglis’ Iconoclast 1969 Smuggling—Day-Glo Pigmented Latex—an ocher rainbow pool of self-contained alchemy and color. The stained swirling ground echoes not only the narcissus, but also the flowers that grow accordingly, Stainless Wax, just above.
Finally, and one of Benglis’ relatively recent creations, Egg of Swinburne I, (2009) is a voluminous tableau of opacity and incongruity. Both repulsively vulgar and intoxicatingly lustful, the slippery wall figure seems almost unapproachable: that aura of brazen passion freezes delighted observers. Sexual, rhetorical, and mythical in its meaning, the creamy cotton candy, Benglis’ magenta-pink sculpture is a menstrual force field: strange and bulbous frightening, an erotic woman’s pupilless eye. Seizing resplendent the wall and viewers in mutual tandem, the womb object stares – its orbicular flesh utters a sort of subsequent “Fuck You” sequel to naysayers and hecklers, contractors and haters. Benglis takes no prisoners, and in these Pussy Riot times (see Russia) his last show at Locks affirms this tenacity and this uncompromising art.