New York

Lynda Benglis

More and more Lynda Benglis strives for theatrical effect. At the opening of the new Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis, charcoal black polyurethane foam projected from the wall, creating an environment which was cavernlike and prehistoric. This theatrical thrust in her work was intensified at a similar installation at the Milwaukee Art Center at which vast, plastic foam reaches were embedded with phosphorescent color. After exposure to light they glowed in the dark, giant decomposing organic matters calcified within stalactites.

In the present installation at Paula Cooper’s Gallery, sprawling forms—vastness belied by light weight—have been cast over stuffed plastic bags (later removed) and they cling to the wall to which they are organically bound like huge gray fungi or vast mastodon skulls.

This thematic inference, despite the immense beauty of the impression, seems to mark, in my mind, a general slackening of theory in Benglis’ work, an easing that allies her to the more immediate theater of the prehistoric to which Nancy Graves has devoted much of her energy. What seems threatened is not only the stature of a highly gifted artist who made some of the most energetic and difficult early steps in favor of post-Minimalism, but the viability of post-Minimalism as a style in itself. For, in sacrificing problem for effect, even great decorative effect, the tendency is to transform the theatrical into the theoretical issue.

What is even more interesting is that both Benglis and Graves return to Pollock, no longer in morphological terms but in terms of specifically identifiable prehistoric imagery, as Pollock had done in the Jungian work immediately preceding the “all-over” of 1947–1951.

Robert Pincus-Witten