Art and Cake: Lynda Benglis: Excavation & Lauren Quin: Pulse Train Howl

June 13, 2022

Shana Nys Dambrot

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Like seemingly everything else in the world these days, new bronze sculptures by Lynda Benglis are enormous, shiny, seductive, heavy, tech-informed gestures that are frozen in the midst of coming undone. The suite of dazzling and dramatic works revisits her frequent knot motif, referencing her original intentions in terms of symbolism—containment, power, strength, the imperfect balance of nature and industry, the even less perfect balance among genders, classes, and other societal premises of control—but with a radically fresh infusion of meaning thanks to vigorous material engagement and an energy expressive not of enclosed security but of undulating unraveling. 

Entering the gallery creates a dramatic reveal; the works though stationary fairly leap into view. The outstretched and up-reaching tongues of frayed ends and the high gleaming glint of light off mirror-polished skins, the low whooshing rush as the eyes are caught up in following unruly curves to their gnarled extremities, and the endless delight of a near infinity of photogenic angles and details—as an experience, it’s less an exhibition and more an encounter. And though each one is made using the same process—the small-scale ceramic models on display in an adjoining room which are scanned, enlarged, executed with the classic lost wax technique, then cast, assembled, welded, and preened—they each present with strong, evocative individual personalities. 

Benglis seems to appreciate the manifestation of a degree of self-hood as the works resolve, as her titles speak to recognition rather than intention. For example, Black Widow (2021, bronze with black patina) with its dark, menacing crouch and coil; Striking Cobra (2020, bronze) with its aggressive golden muscle and clear stance of attack; Power Tower (2019, white Tombasil bronze) with its totemic, Buddha-like anatomy, earthbound center of gravity, and glowing auric crown. Moving around and among them, presences as much as objects, the hyper-reflective surfaces lend each of them a further illusion of motion and a capacity for surprise. 

In the upper galleries, paintings by Lauren Quin do their own gymnastics. Also very large (most are between six and ten feet across), like Benglis’ sculptures, they create a physical space for the viewer to go beyond approach, to infinitesimally enter into the space of the image. But where Benglis’ sculptures enlarge (and blow up) single objects into monuments to gesture, Quin generates pictorial universes that are supersaturated with layers of colors, forms, details, marks, strokes, bursts, flicks, kicks, spirals, spires, knots, currents, drips, drags, and organic shapes that coyly reference the human body. 

Abstract, but only mostly, the kaleidoscopic fields are dizzy and delightful, like when you see how many stars are really in the sky when you get far enough outside of the city, or when you take just a little too much special tea, or when the multiverse explodes into bits. As you move toward them, they pull you in, you fall forward, they reach out and reveal new receding depths and you lean in further. As you move away, they resolve and expose snake-like armatures that hold the fabric of their spacetime together—large, rounded, sinewy shapes of dominant colors that resemble enough of a body to pull the focus of the whole, give the eye and mind a place to rest, and provide a direction for the emotion. In Loupe it’s radiant turquoise against a blood-hued ground; in Blonde Rattle there’s an electric lime and a yellow-tipped lavender vying for territory—color theory plays a big role as the compositions refuse to stop wriggling around, giving them a slight illusion of motion as well. 

Quin also made one particular large-scale painting, presented separately out in the garden gallery, as an homage to Lynda Benglis. Called To Lynda (2022, 96 x 180 inches) and speaking directly to affinities of forcefulness, embodied action-based narrative abstraction, and proliferating detail. While belonging firmly to the entire suite of new paintings, this one is special, probably because its anatomical evocations are a little more enunciated, flesh-toned, emergent from a sea of forms that reads as liquid, primordial, flirting with the figure and to drive that point deeper, by its sheer scale forcing not only the eye but the whole body into motion, passage by passage, angle by angle, around and around.

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