Ten Things You Might Not Know About Lynda Benglis

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Lynda Benglis with work from the Peacock series, India, 1979
Lynda Benglis with work from the Peacock series, India, 1979Courtesy of the Lynda Benglis and Cheim & Read, New York

To mark the opening of her new show, we present ten facts about radical Greek-American artist Lynda Benglis

Lynda Benglis was first recognised in the late 1960s for her process-oriented approach to art making. Using the most diverse materials – she’s known to the world for her poured latex floor paintings, foam sculptures and bronze works – the New York-based sculptor creates abstract art, which explores the physicality of form and how it affects the viewer.

It wasn’t until 1974, however, that Benglis became famous, thanks to a nude spread she published on the November issue of Artforum Magazine. The advert, for her forthcoming show at the Paula Cooper Gallery, showed the artist wearing nothing but a pair of cat-eye sunglasses and a giant dildo, a confrontation of the overt male bias she had perceived and experienced in the art establishment.

Today, The Hepworth Wakefield opens its doors to the UK’s first major exhibition of Benglis’s work, featuring more than 50 pieces covering the entirety of the artist’s creative career to date. To celebrate, we present ten things you might not know about the radical Greek-American artist.

1. Although the Artforum advert was done as an act of denunciation of the male-dominated art world and a media statement in favour of a feminisation of the art scene, many feminists hated it at the time.

2. When the artist, who was born and raised in Louisiana, decided to make her way to New York City – the centre of the visual art scene – she did so on a bus filled with anti-Jim Crow activists on their way home from Mississippi. Once in New York, Benglis got rid of her Southern accent as fast as she possibly could in order to enroll at the Brooklyn Museum Art School.

3. Working across a wide range of materials – from latex, beeswax, rubber and bronze to foam and ceramics – Benglis’s method of creating abstract art has been compared to that of Jackson Pollock.

4. Benglis’s Greek upbringing – her father is originally from the island of Kastelorizo – is reflected in the artist’s fascination with ancient architecture, which crops up continually in her work.

5. Legend has it that Benglisʼs 1960s wax pieces are so rare because she burned most of them to heat up her New York studio.

6. In the early 1970s, she started experimenting with photography and video. Female Sensibility is a 1973 short film, in which the sculptor is filmed in close-up, kissing her friend and fellow artist Marilyn Lenkowsky. Benglis once said, “I had studied pornography, and I was aware that [these works were] coming from that language. But Female Sensibility, for instance, was much more a statement about the fact that women love women, that we can all support each other.”

7. Following her motherʼs stroke in the mid-1990s, Benglis started making brain-like forms. However, the idea for her famous bronze sculpture Medusa (1999), came “while scuba diving around coral reefs”.

8. Lynda Benglis owns a dachshund named Pi, who she takes everywhere.

9. Benglis’ artistic influence is visible in the work of younger artists, including Roxy Paine’s Specimen Cases series, Matthew Barney’s sexually evocative work and Polly Apfelbaum’s floor art.

10. Despite all the noise her anti-establishment work has made over the last fifty years, Lynda Benglis has never openly associated herself with the feminist movement: “I wasn’t a banner-carrying feminist”. On the other hand, what Benglis was really interested in was “showing that an artist can be both masculine and feminine; but most importantly, an artist is an artist”.

Lynda Benglis is at The Hepworth Wakefield until July 1.