As the elevator door slides open to the New Museum's second floor gallery, the visitor enters into an unexpected horizontal landscape. Welcomed in by strange and colorful forms, we find ourselves in the middle of Lynda Benglis' first New York retrospective. The show spans Benglis' extensive forty year career, and includes works in the numerous mediums with which she has experimented.
The six-room exhibit is divided largely along thematic lines, with the largest area dedicated to her early sculptural work. Interested in gesture, Benglis created her series of latex "fallen paintings" in the late '60s. Contraband (1969) a seminal work from this series, sprawls across the gallery floor. A cornucopia of primary colors intermixes randomly, forming a messy composition of poured paint. The work, while slightly faded and curling around the edges, still makes a powerful impact bridging sculpture and painting creating a grand gesture.
Within the same room we see a transition of Benglis's work into the round with her metallic poured sculptures. Eat Meat, a 1973 bronze, sits squatly on the floor resembling a foundry error, yet closer inspection reveals a carefully layered and executed work. These sculptures have presence, they are strangers in the room, but their organic form enables a personality. Eat Meat's beautiful green patina embeds history into the work; these are minimalist sculptures, but rather then cold and disconnected they are humble and inviting.
Benglis's dynamism is clearly seen in her "froze gesture" sculpture. Erupting from the wall and oozing over an invisible landscape, works such as Wing (1970) give the visitor pause. The sculpture engages the viewer, entering their space in a painterly fashion reminiscent of a foreshortened Caravaggio figure. Phantom (1971) elevates Benglis's sculptures to the level of spectacle. A series of four latex flows are infused with phosphorescent pigment. Black lights flicker on in the dark room, energizing their fluorescence. After a few minutes the light turns off and you are left alone with the four glowing figures; the strangers in the room just got a little stranger.
Benglis later work is equally important, yet is compressed into one of the smaller rooms. Ceramic sculptures, Polaroid montages and multiple video installations all compete for attention. Multiple audio tracks shouting over each other combine with the dense documentary photography to overwhelm the viewer. The stark contrast with the calmness of the sculpture rooms will likely entice the visitor to backtrack and spend some more time with the stars of the retrospective