Aged 73, Benglis is one of America’s most significant living artists. Born in 1941 in Louisiana, USA, she was heralded as the ‘heir to Pollock’ by Life magazine in 1970, and emerged as part of a generation of artists forging new approaches to sculpture and painting in the wake of Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Pop Art.
Counting Andy Warhol, Sol LeWitt and Barnett Newman among her friends and peers, Benglis established her career within a male-dominated art world and became famous not only for her rad-ical re-envisioning of sculpture and painting through her early works using wax and poured latex, but also for her works dealing with feminist politics and self-image.
The most infamous of these works is Centrefold, which in the pages of Artforum in 1974. An ex-plicit parody of both the male ethos of the time and the tradition of the ‘pin-up girl’, it showed a naked, confrontational Benglis posing with a giant dildo and sunglasses. Its inclusion in the maga-zine resulted in a handful of editors quitting the journal in protest. Cindy Sherman, a former stu-dent of Benglis, saw the Artforum ad and cited it as a pivotal moment in the development of her own work, exclaiming: “She (Benglis) kicked ass!”
The incredible breadth of Benglis’ work will be explored in this expansive exhibition, which high-lights her enduring desire to challenge the traditions of sculpture and painting, and explore the physical dialogue between work and viewer. Key early works on display will include latex ‘fallen paintings’ such as Baby Contraband (1969), the polyurethane pour Night Sherbet A (1968), the cast metal cantilever Wing (1970) and glitter-encrusted ‘knots’ such as Sparkle Knot IV (1970). Several of her videos and photographic works will also be presented, including the sensual video Female Sensibility (1973), featuring the artist kissing and licking the face of fellow artist Marilyn Lenkowsky.
Benglis remains prolific and continues to develop the unique approach to form and unconventional materials which has defined her practice since late 1960s. Her recent ceramic and polyurethane works will also be on display along with several moulded paper works, to be exhibited publicly for the first time.
Over the past 50 years, Benglis has divided her time between studios in New York, Santa Fe, Ah-medabad in India and Kastelorizo in Greece, with each diverse location having subtle, yet discern-ible, influences on her practice. Drawing on the significance of place and landscape to Benglis’ work, the exhibition layout will be geographically-defined, to echo the influence of these studio localities on her art: each providing a rich resource of forms, iconographies, motifs, materials and methods of fabrication.
John Baldessari, with whom Benglis taught in Los Angeles, has credited her as being “one of the most innovative living sculptors in the United States”. Her curiosity for materials and irreverence can be felt in the work of artists such as Franz West and Paul McCarthy and she continues to in-spire younger generations of artists who have adopted a materials-led approach to making.
Simon Wallis, Director of The Hepworth Wakefield said: “Being the first UK public institution to explore the work of this remarkable and influential artist in-depth is testament to the ongoing ambition of our programme.”
He added: “While Benglis may not yet have achieved the widespread attention of her male coun-terparts, this exhibition, the most extensive presentation of her work to date in the UK, will ad-dress this imbalance allowing our audience to discover the work of this significant and inspira-tional artist for themselves. Benglis’ work will create an unforgettable experience in our beauti-fully designed gallery spaces.”