Lynda Benglis, Cloak-Wave/Pedmarks, 1998. Bronze with black patine, 85.5 x 86 x 42.5 in.

Lynda Benglis

Cheim & Read

New York

Defining Lynda Benglis’s newest works is not easy. Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, whose essay accompanies this beautiful exhibition, distinguishes the main characteristic of Benglis’s art: “Action Sculpture.” From the highly erotic video Female Sensibility (1973) to the palpable nature of her recent works in clay and bronze, Benglis has endeavored to input vitality, sensuality, and intelligence into everything she makes. Her work is underscored by a sense of or attention to action. The video is a lesson in the taxonomy of touch: the action of skin to skin, lips to lips, a hand that discovers and follows the contours of the other’s face as the camera records the physical terrain. lt is an exploration of the body’s surface, which is articulated by bone structure and skin texture.

Twenty-five Years later in Ghost Dance we witness another kind of skin, a molten surface become brittle, the twists and turns of the form coming to rest on the wall. Sensuality is marked by the gleaming and reflective surface of a golden patina. Touch here is akin to episodes in the video, completely voyeuristic. Like many of the artist’s earlier metallic knots and undulating wall Pieces of the ’70s and ’80s, this massive cast fragment hangs from a single bolt on the wall as if weightless. The two adjacent floor pieces in this show also represent motion and touch. More animated than the wall piece, these works are suggestive of dramatic personae, expressing something like the rhythmic movements of Kabuki actors. The highly stylized and dramatic players of Japanese theater function to deliver the excitement and conflict of the play. This is achieved through the internal mechanics of moving with great deliberateness, forceful independence, and authority. But it is the excitement and conflict of otherwise immobile bronze that forms the strength of Benglis’s sculpture. Comprised of segments of clay that have been cast, the final forms are painted. While the color adds to their internal drama, It also serves to distinguish the outer and inner skin of each character. One is like a wave, a three-dimensional casting of water cresting upward-Benglis has always sought to freeze frame solids in a molten slate. Cloak Wave, as its name suggests, hides and covers.

But both forms rise up, their dramatic tension achieved through the implied slow motion and the designed effort to pull up off the floor and balance on their ends. Action is further articulated as Benglis works to expose her material’s natural inertness and to counteract it with her vision to make it vivacious.

Benglis’s castings also share something with the lumpy, tactile surface of Willem de Kooning’s figurative sculpture. The abrupt fragmentation of her forms and the overall tactile handling of the surface echo de Kooning’s process. But Benglis aims more for elegant and energized motion, while de Kooning seeks to monumentalize both the figure and his painter’s touch. De Kooning relies upon nature, Benglis on the process of nature.

Recent exhibitions in the U.S. and in Germany have focused on a growing series of clay works ln some ways these remarkable small-scale achievements resemble preliminary models for her thoughts and ideas regarding the clay forms, which are the basis for the large-scale bronze castings. A group of these clay
objects was also on display, further demonstrating Benglis’s efforts to pressure fold, bend, and shape clay into an active element like a George Ohr pot, but without Ohr’s nod to function or narrative. Made of thick slabs of clay these dense abstractions are then fired and loosely painted.

-Michael Klein