Stunning Detours of Foam and Latex Lynda Benglis at Thomas Dane Gallery, London
by Preeti Kathuria
Absurd juxtapositions of material-centric art tends to challenge the viewer’s rationale and Lynda Benglis is well known for creating such encounters by elevating and projecting vulgar industrial materials as art. Her generous pourings of latex, abstract sculpture, photography and video works are succinct commentaries on feminism, social structure and gender-issues. The Thomas Dane Gallery London recently hosted, American artist Lynda Benglis’s first major survey exhibition in the UK.
The exhibition features some large pours and sculptural installations done by the artist in the last forty years of her career. Ms. Benglis’s material vocabulary is extensive yet assorted. Some of the identifiable materials she uses are latex, plastic, polyurethane foam, metal, wire, rubber and glitter. Her refusal of clichés – and a presumed affinity with material can be well understood as her father had a building-material business and industrial components became a part of her childhood discourse. It is also possible that material is a metaphor for a refuge where her innermost feelings could also be staged and enacted. “…I think of paintings as a skin” says, Ms. Benglis. Something very similar is felt and seen in the works of Anish Kapoor whose powder and pigments form a skin which appear to breathe in his labs of performance. The generative force of such depictions is their ability to diminish distance and induce the visitor to come closer to the object for a detailed inspection or may be even touch the works to get a feel of the skin being projected.
Vibrant coloured latex melting and cascading the gallery floor is charged with the energy of performance and creates visual excitement. The liquid distorted appearance of her pourings, carry a debatable aesthetic yet the commanding presence of material seems to rupture the idioms of seeing gestural art. It draws immediate connections with Jackson Pollock’s volatile drip paintings and the canons of minimalism. Controlled accidents with material create and weave, new structural elements within the rubric of the gallery’s physical space clearly suggesting a sensuous, sometimes destabilising visual rhythm. Boundaries of definition blend and dissolve in the new landscape of diverse shapes. Rich emotional content adds to the dramatic fervour of Ms. Benglis’s autonomous representations. Her process-based art practices are not just carriers of meaning but are stunning commentaries on societal conventions.
Many find her act of narrating and communicating issues, rebellious in nature but the works have the magnetism to attract spectators and make them active and integral participants in renewing the material by deriving new meanings. Her ideas and works create a clear divide between her audiences, as some find them seductive while others feel they are repellently odd and ludicrous. In both cases, the plot is understood as an allegory of a modernist maze. It throbs with an anti-narrative, disquiet impulse where intriguing liaisons are made using the grammar of body and gesture.