Since the 1960s, Lynda Benglis has been celebrated for the free, ecstatic forms she has poured, thrown and molded in ceramic, latex, polyurethane and bronze. In her new work, she turns to handmade paper, which she wraps around a chicken wire armature, often painting the sand-toned surface in bright, metallic colors offset by strokes of deep, coal-based black. At other times she leaves the paper virtually bare.
These works reflect the environment in which they were made, the “sere and windblown” landscape of Santa Fe, New Mexico, as Nancy Princenthal writes in her essay on the exhibit. “It is possible to see the bleached bones of the land—its mesas and arroyos; its scatterings of shed snakeskins and animal skeletons—in the new sculptures’ combination of strength and delicacy.”
Simultaneously playful and visceral, the new works enter into a lively dialogue with Benglis’s previous explorations of materials and form, but with a raw immediacy inherent to the moist strips of paper she uses as their skin. Stretched, crimped and torn into richly organic shapes, the paper becomes both the sculpture’s shell and a repository of the artist’s touch. “The flexibility of the paper is marvelous; it’s just very loving,” she tells the filmmaker Burrill Crohn in Benglis Skin Deep, a video interview on the making of this body of work.
The sculptures are light and open, with slits and apertures revealing their wire supports. “I’m drawing with air, and wire, and paper,” Benglis remarks in the interview. Princenthal compares the paper skins to shattered piñatas and animal hides, as well as to the kites that the artist’s father made by hand (Benglis attends the kite festival held yearly at Ahmedabad, India, where she maintains a residence).
Lynda Benglis With a Fan at the Exhibit’s Opening Reception in September
As a counterweight to the paper sculptures, Benglis will also exhibit The Fall Caught, a new large-scale aluminum work made by applying spray foam instead of strips of handmade paper on the chicken wire armature, as well as a new series of spiraling, hand-built black ceramics called Elephant Necklace. Benglis has said of this work, “Elephants necklaces are artifacts that I imagine in the long and short of the extrusions of life. The expulsion from the garden with the umbilical cord attached are perhaps the fragments left of the family of mammoths trunks. Having left only parts of their trunks in our imagination, I long to find out more about them through a united collaboration with Saxe Patterson, my exploration team, and others who may decide to question their existence in this hemisphere.”
The sexual politics at the heart of Benglis’s career is intrinsic to this work. The cylindrical shape of many of her new sculptures can bring to mind phalluses and vaginas (“considered as tubes, one becomes the other”), and yet, as Princenthal observes, “Of all the sensations her work evokes, pure delight is among the keenest.”
Lynda Benglis: New Work will be on Exhibit Through October 22nd, 2016 at Cheim & Read, Located at 547 West 25th Street, in the Chelsea Gallery District.