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“I Don’t Get It”— Getting comfortable with some of Crystal Bridges’ challenging artworks: Lynda Benglis's "Eat Meat"

Museum guests respond to Lynda Benglis's 'Eat Meat'

Of all the works in Crystal Bridges collection that cause guests to scratch their heads in bewilderment, Lynda Benglis’s Eat Meat has to be at the top of the list.  The amorphous blob of silver aluminum, resting like an alien invader on the pristine floor of the Twentieth-Century Art Gallery, seems almost to affront some visitors, who can be seen skirting the sculpture at a safe distance, or else scowling at it distastefully as if it smelled bad or had made a rude noise. While a few Museum guests find Benglis’s sculpture intriguing, playful, even beautiful (children in particular seem to be largely entertained by it)—many more are left cold by the work. At best these folks feel confused by it; at worst, they are outright repelled.  Comments about the sculpture overheard in the gallery range from “I don’t get it,” to “That’s not art.” It’s been called “gross,”  “disgusting,” and “disturbing.” “What is it?” people ask.  And the guesses range from “leftover metal” to “a melted baby hippopotamus” to … well, various bodily effluvia.  Whatever it is, it certainly seems to have the capacity to make people uncomfortable. But exactly how or why it has this effect is hard to pinpoint. Museum President Don Bacigalupi explains it this way:  “It’s a work that gets into your space, it doesn’t retreat from you. It feels like something that’s organic.—and we’re all kind of queasy around body fluids and things like that. We’re accustomed to sculpture that—if it relates to a body, it does so in a very traditional way, we should be looking at a bronze sculpture of a figure or something like that, and this work doesn’t conform to any of those conventions. It doesn’t look like sculpture.” This challenge to our traditional understanding of art is, Bacigalupi explains, exactly what the work is meant to do.  As viewers, we are supposed to feel off-kilter somehow—simultaneously attracted and repelled by the work. Crystal Bridges’ iTunes U site offers up a recorded conversation between Museum President Don Bacigalupi and Deputy Director of Museum Relations, Sandy Edwards, that really helps to shed some light on this challenging work. Why is it on the floor?  What is it about?  What is it supposed to represent??  Don and Sandy discuss all of these questions and more, and share some of their personal thoughts and reactions to the work, as well. Listen in: you might find yourself looking at Benglis’s Eat Meat in a whole new way next time you view it!

This and many more enlightening conversations, videos, and recordings of lectures and Art Talks are available on Crystal Bridges iTunes U site, and new material is being added all the time. All the material is free. Check it out through the iTunes store!