Wrapping up this year’s Distinguished Speaker Series at Crystal Bridges are two remarkable, powerful, and seriously not-fooling-around women artists: Lynda Benglis, appearing at Crystal Bridges on November 3, 2017, and Carrie Mae Weems, who will be appearing at the museum on December 8. Tickets are available now.
Lynda Benglis is an icon in the art world for her organic, off-the-wall sculptures and latex floor paintings, as well as for her rejection of the boys club that was Abstract Expressionism in the 1960s and ‘70s. She is often hailed as a feminist artist, partly because of her infamous full-page ad in ArtForum in 1974, in which she appeared nude and brandishing a large phallus. It was a comment on the bias against women in the New York art world, and the macho-ness of the language and materials of art at the time.
Most of the time, however, Benglis was not speaking out about disparity between men and women artists. She worked. She often worked in opposition to the male-dominated mainstream, and she let her work speak for her. She replied to the “gesture painting” of Pollock by eliminating canvas altogether and pouring brightly colored latex directly on the floor to create her works. She created organic works that allowed the materials a certain freedom to form themselves: a direct rebuttal to the meticulous, machine-made rigidity of Minimalism, which was trending at the time. Benglis’s sculpture Eat Meat, in Crystal Bridges’ collection, is a good example of this form. The work was made by pouring latex foam onto the floor and allowing it to create its own folds, bulges, and dollops before casting it in lightweight, modern, yet rigid aluminum, a favorite material of the Minimalists.
She has also created wall sculptures resembling bows or floral arrangements, but constructed from sheet metal. She created what John Baldessari referred to as “painterly sculpture, or sculptural painting, or perhaps it’s simply Benglisian forms: works that range in material—fabric, wire mesh, bronze, steel, cast aluminum, polyurethane, beeswax, phosphorescence, glitter, handmade paper—but always carry the process of their creation on their surfaces.” Unlike the Minimalists, she showed both her hand as the artist and the natural action of her materials. Judith Tannenbaum, who organized an exhibition of Benglis’s work in 2010, said of her: “She’s not a performance artist, but her active making of the work is somehow still apparent in it. That’s been really influential on a generation.”
Carrie Mae Weems’s early photographs took a more documentary approach before she turned to art photography, they all had one thing in common. “From the very beginning,” she said, “I’ve been interested in the idea of power and the consequences of power; relationships are made and articulated through power.”
She often uses herself and members of her own family to populate her images, which primarily focus on African American life. “Black folks operate under a cloud of invisibility,” she said. “For the most part African Americans and our lives remain invisible. Black people are to be turned away from, not turned toward.” Her works put Black people, Black lives, and Black culture front and center: straightforward, unapologetic, and sometimes confrontationally. “In the face of refusal, I insist on making work that includes us as part of the greater whole. Black experience is not really the main point; rather, complex, dimensional, human experience and social inclusion—even in the shit, muck, and mire—is the real point.”
Often Weems herself appears in her images, sometimes identifiably, other times with her head or face obscured: a shadow self Weems refers to as her “muse.” The muse can be seen in her Kitchen Table series, created from 1989 to 1990, several of which are included in the Crystal Bridges’ collection. In this series, an entire life spools out in individual images. In each one, the plain wooden kitchen table, overhung by a bright light, takes center stage. Around it, Weems and her family are captured in moments of living: frozen snapshots of stories we must piece together ourselves.
“Carrying a tremendous burden, she is a black woman leading me through the trauma of history,” Weems stated. “I think it’s very important that as a black woman she’s engaged with the world around her; she’s engaged with history, she’s engaged with looking, with being. She’s a guide into circumstances seldom seen.”
Weems also, however, considers this figure an Everywoman, representing the common humanity of Black woman and white woman, woman and man, mother and family. “I think that most work that’s made by black artists is considered to be about blackness. Unlike work that’s made by white artists, which is assumed to be universal at its core. I really sort of claimed the same space, and I think the work in many ways is universal at its core…”
Tickets are on sale now. Click here for tickets and information.