Artistic Director and Chief Curator Nora Lawrence shares her experiences with artist Lynda Benglis and her sculpture North South East West. These memories are part of a series to highlight beloved artwork on our site and to ask for your support of our annual fund.

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A source of solace and contemplation currently sited in on Museum Hill the middle of Storm King, Lynda Benglis’s fountain North South East West explores the idea that a sculpture can move beyond its bounds; the water that drips down the furthest tendrils of the sculpture’s form and into the pond below becomes an extension of the work.

North South East West was first installed at Storm King for the 2015 exhibition, Lynda Benglis: Water Sources. Lynda grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, surrounded by water, fascinated by the bayou, the shore, bioluminescence, and crabs digging into the sand. The abstract forms of Lynda’s fountains have numerous resonances with her personal history and connections to nature, and North South East West beautifully activates the landscape of Storm King.

Lynda is an artist who is always at work—either physically engaged in a work of art she’s creating or envisioning her next project and a new material to work with. For Chimera/Cicada (1988), she found a large ceramic pot and used it as a support over which she created a frame out of chicken wire. She poured polyurethane foam over the cantilevered frame, a material that is intended to quickly freeze, expand, and fill space, creating a form with an unpredictable, organic shape. The form was then cast into bronze and exhibited as a complete fountain Chimera/Cicada in 2003 and later replicated three times in 2009 to create North South East West, with one form for each cardinal direction.

Upon the opportunity to display this fountain at Storm King in 2015, Lynda chose to create a variant on North South East West again by pouring additional polyurethane on top of the North, South, and West forms of the sculpture. There are many allusions to water and marine life in North South East West that go beyond the drips down the work’s surface—the overlapping layers of the work resemble ocean waves coursing over each other as they reach the shore and the shape of the forms resemble crustaceans or shellfish.

Our collaboration with Benglis is indicative of what we always want to do at Storm King—achieve the visions of the artists we work with and help provide new interpretations of and directions for their work. Come and enjoy Lynda Benglis’s North South East West this season and make a contribution to support artists’ most ambitious projects at Storm King.

Artist Bio:

Since the 1960s, Lynda Benglis has been celebrated for the free, ecstatic forms she has made that are simultaneously playful and visceral, organic and abstract. Benglis began her career in the midst of Postminimal art, pushing the traditions of painting and sculpture into new territories. Benglis initiated several bodies of work in the late 1960s and early 1970s that set the course for her subsequent practice. Her wax paintings, which began with brushed skin-like layers of pigmented beeswax and dammar resin transitioned into the use of a blowtorch as a kind of brush, manipulating colors into a marbleized surface that seemingly fought against the constraints of the lozenge-shaped Masonite panels. The impulse to see these forms flow beyond the structure of a traditional support led Benglis to embrace pigmented latex, which she began pouring directly onto the floor. The use of gravity and her body in the latex pours invoked Jackson Pollock’s process, a connection immortalized in the February 27, 1970 edition of Life magazine, which featured Benglis at work.

Concurrently, she began working with pigmented polyurethane foam, building the volume of her sculptures vertically by pouring the oozing, lava-like forms against walls and in the corners of spaces or over constructed armatures and chicken wire that were removed once the wall mounted foam pours solidified. Benglis’s totem-like sculptures­ followed as long, cylindrical structures made of wire mesh, cotton bunting, and plaster that, by 1972, she began to tie into knots. Painted with metallic sparkle, Sculp-Metal, or layers of sprayed, vaporized aluminum, copper, zinc, or tin, the works are complicated further by the reflections of their surfaces, conflating the sculptural object with painterly space. The contorted shapes, formed by the artist’s hands, express the bodily force used by Benglis throughout her career continuing with her gold sculptures of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In the early 1970s, Benglis took new media technologies as her material, producing video art at a time when it was still in its early stages as a medium. Her experimental videos feature performative actions and technological mediation to explore themes of physical presence, narcissism, sexuality, and gendered identity. Physical and Psychological Moments in Time, a retrospective of video works by Benglis, was held in 1975 by Fine Arts Center Gallery, State University of New York College at Oneonta, and traveled to Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Netherlands. Benglis also introduced images of herself into the public discourse, including a 1974 Artforum ad, to challenge assumptions about self-presentation and gender in the male-dominated art world.

Benglis extended her innovative use of materials in 1984, when she first used water as an element in her sculptures. She won the competition to create a fountain for that year’s Louisiana World Exposition in New Orleans, resulting in The Wave of the World (1983–84) in cast bronze. She has gone on to create numerous other sculptural fountains, including Chimera (1988), Double Fountain, Mother and Child, For Anand (2007) originally installed at Le Jardin Botanique de Dijon, France, and North South East West (2009), exhibited at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin. With moving water incorporated into their compositions, her fountains convey fluidity in physical and thematic terms.

The embrace of flowing forms, color, and sensual surfaces plays a large part in Benglis’s continuous investigation of the proprioceptive, sensory experiences of making and viewing her sculptures. From the complex chromatic harmonies of the wax paintings to the selected use of brilliant Day-Glo pigments or phosphorescence in her latex and foam sculptures, Benglis’s exuberant engagement with color, along with her radical employment of material, sets her apart from the more achromatic focus of her Minimalist and Postminimal contemporaries.