An important sculptor for more than three decades, Lynda Benglis also produced a pioneering body of feminist video in the 1970s. Immediate and visceral, Benglis' performance-based video work confronts issues raised by feminist theory, including the representation of women, the role of the spectator, and female sexuality. Benglis also engaged the emergent practice of video in an incisive discourse on the production of the moving image.
One of Benglis' most provocative and notorious gestures was the full-color advertisement she placed in the November 1974 issue of Artforum, in which she posed wearing only a pair of sunglasses and holding a strategically placed dildo. By inserting the ad in a well-known contemporary art magazine, Benglis not only confronted conventions of sexuality, feminism, and female representation, but also questioned commercial promotion, the art-star system, and the way artists use themselves to sell their works. With the Artforum ad, Benglis challenged the male-dominated art world as well as the feminist movement, whose aims but not strategies she shared. She was among the first women artists to explore the tension between early feminism's adherence to an established language of the body and certain stereotypes of femininity.
Benglis' sculptures refer to sexuality through the physical aspects of their materials and forms, which are often subtly eroticized. In her video work, such subject matter is approached conceptually and made more explicit. From 1972 to 1977 Benglis worked primarily on video projects, exploring themes of identity, control, androgyny, and sexual ambiguity.
Benglis manipulated the video medium's intrinsic characteristics to call into question the essence of "reality" and that of the medium itself. Layering events and spaces by re-taping off the monitor, or confusing the viewer's sense of time by combining past and present are among the strategies Benglis uses to unveil the artifice of the medium. Experimentation and humor also characterize Benglis' works; her manipulation of early video's intrinsic qualities suggests a playful yet critical approach to the emergent technology, imparting a deliberate sense of amorphousness and a willful lack of narrative logic.
In her seminal video works, Benglis addresses sex as a social configuration and a political statement. Cerebral, theoretical, and at times disquieting, these works are often imbued with narcissism and autoeroticism. Although located within the larger practice of conceptual art and performance art of the late 1960s and '70s, Benglis' pioneering video works are distinguished by her explicit interest in the female self and female sexuality, and her canny manipulation of electronic technology to articulate these investigations.
Lynda Benglis was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1941. She received a B.F.A. from Newcomb College. Her work has been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Tate Modern, London; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the 39th Venice Biennale; Cheim & Read and Franklin Parrasch galleries in New York, among many other venues. In 2009, a retrospective of her work was exhibited at Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Netherlands, which then traveled to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; on to Le Consortium, Dijon, France and the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island in 2010, and finally to the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York in 2011. She has been awarded two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and an Australian Council for the Arts Award. She has taught at the School of Visual Arts, the University of Arizona, Yale University, Princeton University and the California Institute of the Arts, among other schools.
Benglis lives and works in New York.