New York

Lynda Benglis

Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

Since the early ’70s, Lynda Benglis has worked in the area between fine art and industry, and, in the process, she has done much to erase the boundaries that once separated painting and sculpture.

While relief work enjoyed a modest heyday in the early part of the century, first with Picasso and then with selective members of the Russian avant-garde including Ivan Puni, Vladimir Tatlin, and El Lissitsky, this way of working was not widely investigated in the contemporary context until Benglis reintroduced it with her breakthrough series, “Totems,” 1971–72.

Throughout the ’70s Benglis continued to work in relief using a variety of materials including plaster, cotton bunting, wire, and aluminum screen. The early reliefs featuring knots and fans, and the gold leaf pieces from the late ’70s influenced a wave of work once described as on-the-wall/off-the-wall, which burst on the scene in the early ’80s.

Benglis’ ability to make the relief speak in the most stimulating of terms can be appreciated in her latest series of wall sculptures, called “Trophies.” Made of stainless-steel mesh with surfaces of metallized aluminum, the pieces in this series emanate a structural strength and integrity as objects that equal their impact as images. Working with the motif of the fold in the large-scale examples like Diablo and Isabella Borgward, both 1990, Benglis achieves an exhilarating spatial complexity. In Diablo the individual sections of this multipart and multilayered composition seem to beat in unison like wings; the illusion of movement fairly rushes through the bends and ridges.

A graceful and elegant vertically disposed wall piece, Isabella Borgward, suggests an ornamental item of jewelry. In these and other examples, including Aurora II, 1990, and Holden II, 1989–90, the dynamic curves factored into the patterns of folds seem infused with organic energy. Ultimately, Benglis’ style is animated by a tantalizing dialogue between abstraction and nature, governed by vitality of form and idea.

Ronny Cohen