Lynda Benglis & the Death of Eros

The circular retrospective of Lynda Benglis at the New Museum was a revelation in what it revealed about the Death of Eros in feminist art.  If I had gone experienced it earlier than my arrival on the day of its closing, I might not have been struck by lightening.

With the help of a friendly guard who told me that Benglis wouldn’t talk about her erotic work during the installation, I had a breakthrough in understanding the origins of the repression of Eros in Feminist Art!

You exit the elevator to confront Benglis initial mission: to outdo the Abstract Expressionist pour painting to reveal how women can channel the collective unconscious without the limitations of the canvas!

Women can channel the unconscious too! Lynda Benglis at the New Museum. This floor painting was originally hung on the wall by a male curator, thereby proving her point.

Then you move into the next gallery — to be confronted by the Sky Goddess as link between Heaven & Earth, the archetypal symbol of flight…

Lynda Benglis "Wing" 1970

In the transition gallery,  her self-narratives revealing the passage: the exploration of eros, smashing through gender boundaries to embody the androgynous Sky Goddess. The Polaroid Series and explosive Feminine Sensibility video, summed up by a prescient erotic boomerang…an icon embodying both masculine and feminine…

Lynda Benglis "Smile" sculpture (1974)

culminating in the outrageous Art Forum advertisement for her 1974 exhibition at Paula Cooper displayed under glass…

Lynda Benglis' as psychopomp/herrmaphrodite, published in Art Forum, November 1974

— a bold early manifestation in art of a 21st century archetype — crushed  by backlash.

And this explains the passage gallery, the fall-out…

Primary Structures (Paula’s Props), first shown in 1975 at Paula Cooper Gallery.Shattered forms of the patriarchy as a response to the next movement, male dominated Minimaliists populating the gallery stable.

…and a golden phallic Minos revealing the chaos resulting from what might have been

Lynda Benglis "Minos" wall sculpture at the New Museum

What is a feminist artist to do, but retreat behind the shield and decorate the symbols of the androgynous pre-patriarchal goddess thwarted at every turn in early 20th century emergernce…

“Zanzidae, From the Peacock Series” (1979), a wall piece that incorpo- rates glass and plastic in various forms, at the New Museum exhibition

Completing the circle to the darkened gallery with the prescient Phantoms, an early (1971) manifestation of the feminine divine channeled via Feminist performance,

Lyndia Benglis "Phantoms" installation at the New Museum

was very telling in its coding:  two black Ghost Shadow wall sculptures (2007)

Lynda Benglis "Ghost Shadow" 2009 cast tinted polyurethane

…with the flaming red  egg-shaped Chiron (below) in the center…

Lynda Benglis "Chiron" (2009) cast tinted polyurethane

This sums up, in material form, the mythical journey of the feminist artist from 1970s to the present: the initial burst of goddess driven energy into ephemeral form via performance, resulting in a notoriety to be followed by the inevitable backlash, and retreat into the shadows…

…fertile soil for the healer archetype of Chiron (now conjunct Neptune in its feminine ruled Pisces) to re-emerge as Eros in 2011!


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