Image courtesy of Benoit Pailley
From lava forms erupting from a wall lit with a black light to knotted steel formations, which remind me of all the yoga poses I will never master, to a room filled with Benglis’ content-heavy new media works tackling gender, the works create a dynamic exhibition. At no point did I know what was coming next, yet the unpredictability of the show wasn’t jarring; it was stimulating. When the lava pieces came off the wall instead of being piled on the ground in the corner, their gravity took a charge that was engaging in an unexpected way. Her sculptures and floor paintings felt extremely contemporary despite being at least three decades old. This feeling was exaggerated after experiencing George Condo’s exhibition on the 3rd and 4th floors, where I was continually shocked that the paintings were made within the last ten to 15 years, because they felt dated.
Many of Benglis’ sculptures seemingly beg to be taken off the wall, to function in some unfamiliar ceremony or ritual. They evoke forms from worship or minimalist abstraction with their inherent seriousness, then the surface sparkles, glitter and lovely colors replace the austerity with a messy vibrating poetry.
The aspect that I appreciate of both Benglis’s art practice and the curation of this exhibition is the inclusion of both objects and ideas, the multi-dimensionality that she’s engaged with is dealt with. Artists can prove difficult to categorize and often work that can’t be reconciled gets left out or turned into fetishized smaller exhibitions. Her practice avoids reduced summations by floating between new media, performance and conceptual works and that of the objects she was making. Even if you don’t really know her work, you might have heard the story from the ’70s when she took out an ad in Art Forum of her naked, oiled, trim and tan-lined body with a rocking double-sided dildo protruding a good 15 inches off her body. She wasn’t going to play nice. She had things she needed to make in the studio and she had work to do within the confines of the art world. Whether she was leaving the stretchers behind to make paintings directly on the floor or running around in a video with a costumed dog flaunting male and female genitalia, Benglis’ work holds formal and conceptual grit that still has traction.