Melbourne

View of “Benglis 73/74,” 2014. From left: Cosey Fanni Tutti, Piccadilly International Vol. 10, No. 10, 1976; Sarah Lucas, Bucket of Tea, A, 1993–2013; Lynda Benglis, Female Sensibility, 1973; Janet Burchill, The Temptation To Exist etc., 1990. Installation view, Neon Parc.

View of “Benglis 73/74,” 2014. From left: Cosey Fanni Tutti, Piccadilly International Vol. 10, No. 10, 1976; Sarah Lucas, Bucket of Tea, A, 1993–2013; Lynda Benglis, Female Sensibility, 1973; Janet Burchill, The Temptation To Exist etc., 1990. Installation view, Neon Parc.

“Benglis 73/74”

Neon Parc/Sutton Projects/TCB Art Inc.

View of “Benglis 73/74,” 2014. From left: Cosey Fanni Tutti, Piccadilly International Vol. 10, No. 10, 1976; Sarah Lucas, Bucket of Tea, A, 1993–2013; Lynda Benglis, Female Sensibility, 1973; Janet Burchill, The Temptation To Exist etc., 1990. Installation view, Neon Parc.

Everyone who attended art-school theory seminars from the mid-1970s on, and everyone who reads Artforum, knows that in 1974, New York artist Lynda Benglis’s gallery purchased two pages of ad space in the magazine’s November issue. That advertisement is the basis for the recent three-gallery exhibition “Benglis 73/74.” Its curator, Geoff Newton, is an artist with a taste for the textual (he sometimes paints covers of art books or magazines). For this show, he assembled works by a long list of British and American artists, from Sarah Lucas and Cosey Fanni Tutti to Robert Mapplethorpe and Benglis herself, as well as Australians including local artists the Kingpins and Tyza Stewart, and dispersed them among a long-running artist-run initiative in Chinatown (TCB Art Inc.), an established dealer’s project annex in hipster Fitzroy (Sutton Projects), and a humble, walk-up, inner-city dealer gallery (Neon Parc, of which he is the director). The works either riff on Benglis’s famous advertisement, as does Lucas’s Bucket of Tea, A, 1993–2013, four color photographs on red Lucite that float like Calder mobiles, or are clearly haunted by the ad’s undercover-agent methodology, for instance Tutti’s Piccadilly International porn spreads of 1976, updated in a later work, Confessions, 2010, a valedictory video soliloquy about her sex work.

Newton also assembled a generous publication for this modestly mammoth project, with essays that run the gamut from dense art-historical footnoting to a personal reminiscence of Benglis by artist Dale Frank. This small book is, quite appropriately, as substantial as each of the three shows—a frame that fixes the aspiration of “Benglis 73/74,” which is quasi-museological rather than vampiric. Like most of the works included, the book traces the afterlife of the image that appeared on the right-hand side of the Artforum double-page spread. This was a color photograph of Benglis naked, oiled, wearing cool cat’s-eye sunglasses, and holding a very hefty dildo between her toned thighs. The facing page was solid black, but at the top of that page, a discreet line of white text read: LYNDA BENGLIS COURTESY OF PAULA COOPER GALLERY COPYRIGHT © 1974 PHOTO: ARTHUR GORDON.

Text and image were the latest in a sequence of notices that Benglis and her friend, artist Robert Morris, had paid for in an escalating but apparently amiable altercation with each other. It’s well known that Benglis paid double the usual rate for the two notorious pages, and that the magazine’s editor at the time, John Coplans, charged her extra in case there were disputes with the printers over the image. All of Benglis’s and Morris’s rampant, engorged uncoolness (along with the scent of paid-for sexual commodification, which so offended Artforum’s editorial advisers, soon, of course, to split to form October) was or could have been grist for each younger artist’s mill here, and many of them restaged Benglis’s literally full-frontal, unclothed, fuck-you-I’ll-take-the-money stance. The Kingpins, a four-woman collective working with scary stylelessness and epic glamour, contributed Oz Style, 2010, a painting executed by Indian sign and film-set painters that elaborates an in-your-face, sci-fi-babe fantasy based on the imagined survival and outback adoption by dingoes of Azaria Chamberlain, a real-life nine-week old baby who was almost certainly taken and killed by these native dogs in 1980. But after all the updating, a video by Benglis herself was the center of attention. Female Sensibility, 1973, made before all the fuss, documents a long and gentle kiss shared by two women (one of whom is the artist herself). It was by far the most tender, and therefore the most anomalous, work in the show.

Charles Green