On Saturday we decided to drive over the M62 to Wakefield to visit the Hepworth Gallery to see the new exhibition that had opened the previous day featuring works by the Greek-American sculptor Lynda Benglis. We also managed to get over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, only 15 minutes drive away, to see the exhibition installed in the old Chapel since our visit on New Year’s Day.
So, first of all the Hepworth. There’s always a lot to see in this excellent Gallery and, as usual, there several exhibitions taking place. We had seen some of them before during previous visits so concentrated on the those new to us. The Lynda Benglis retrospective was the “headline” show and had been reviewed very favourably in the Guardian the day before our visit. I thought hadn’t heard of the artist previously, but remembered a piece I’d seen by her in the garden at the Irish Museum of Modern Art – a bronze sculpture suspended over a neo-classical fountain that looked like frozen water.
The Hepworth website provides a brief artist biography:
Aged 73, Benglis is one of America’s most significant living artists. Born in 1941 in Louisiana, USA, she was heralded as the ‘heir to Pollock’ by Life magazine in 1970, and emerged as part of a generation of artists forging new approaches to sculpture and painting in the wake of Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Pop Art. (Hepworth website)
The exhibition covered all of her career with a large number of works displayed in 5 rooms. She worked with different materials, including polyurethane foam, wax, metal, paper, fabric and clay.
The first room featured works influenced by her Greek heritage. On one wall there were several pieces made from metal but formed to resemble fabric tied in knots or fluttering in the wind – very beautiful and I was fascinated wondering how she achieved the effects.
Raptor, 1995 – 96 Stainless steel, wire mesh, silicone and bronze
There were a number of other pieces that represented knots of fabric, such as this
In one corner there was a three work constructed of polyurethane – the Three Graces. The material is semi-transparent and the light falling on it is absorbed and transmitted creating a translucent effect.
The Three Graces
Benglis is known for a number of controversial, explicit photographs and videos.
The Guardian tells us
Despite a long career, Benglis’s legacy as an artist is still dominated by an advert that featured in the November issue of Artforum magazine in 1974. In it, Benglis was photographed, naked and oiled, defiantly clutching a double-headed dildo at her crotch. The artist paid $3,000 for the space after editors refused to give her the cover, and it proved so outrageous on publication that several editors resigned.
Some of these photographs, including the most notorious, and a video were shown in a side room with a warning of their adult content. These works supposedly “subvert” pornographic images. Personally I can’t understand how they achieve that and I did not find them appealing. I swiftly moved on.
There were a number of bronze casts made from “blobs” of polyurethane foam. In my work I visit factories that produce objects from polyurethane and these works rather reminded me of the lumps of waste material produced during purging or when something goes wrong with the process. So they weren’t my favourite pieces in the exhibition.
One technique that Benglis has used in the past is to pour batches of brightly coloured liquid rubber on the floor allowing it to dry. Here’s an example.
I fond it more interesting than the polyurethane based works.
There were a couple of interesting pieces with patterns formed from beeswax on a wooden form.
The final room had works created during her time in India and New Mexico
I thought this peacock like work, made from wire mesh, enamel, glass and plastic, was attractive
Zanzidae Peacock Series, 1979
These black forms, cast from bronze with a black patina, were more sinister. I found them interesting and particularly liked the way they cast shadows on the wall.
These tubes made of paper rather reminded me of intestines!
These abstract ceramic pieces were created during her time working in New Mexico and are clearly influenced by indigenous ceramic works.
It was an excellent exhibition. I wasn’t keen on everything but given the range of Benglis’ work that isn’t surprising. But there were many interesting and beautiful works and we hope to return to see the exhibition before it finishes on 1 July. (Maybe next tie I’ll remember to make a note of the titles and other details of the works I photograph!)