Lynda Benglis (b. 1941)
Lynda Benglis (b. 1941)


Lynda Benglis (b. 1941)
incised with the artist's signature and dated 'Benglis 74' (lower center)
2 x 15 x 5 ½ in. (5.1 x 38.1 x 14 cm.)
Executed in 1974. Please note this work is a unique variant from a series of three.
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
S. Richmond, Lynda Benglis: Beyond Process, London, 2013, p. 145, no. 54 (bronze example illustrated).
New York, Paula Cooper Gallery, Lynda Benglis, May 1974 (bronze example exhibited).
Greensboro, The University of North Carolina, Weatherspoon Art Museum, Lynda Benglis, March-April 2000 (bronze example exhibited).
New York, David Zwirner Gallery, New York ca. 1975, June-August 2001 (bronze example exhibited).
East Hampton, Guild Hall Museum, Personal and Political: The Woman's Art Movement, 1969-1975, August-October 2002 (bronze example exhibited).
New York, Cheim & Read, Circa 70: Lynda Benglis and Louise Bourgeois, June-August 2007, n.p. (bronze example exhibited and illustrated).
New York, Susan Inglett Gallery, Lynda Benglis / Robert Morris: 1973-1974, June-July 2009.
New York, New Museum, Lynda Benglis, February-May 2011, p. 232 (bronze example illustrated).
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Lynda Benglis, July-October 2011 (bronze example exhibited).
London, Hepworth Wakefield, Lynda Benglis, February-July 2015 (bronze example exhibited).
New York, Cheim & Read, The Female Gaze, Part Two: Women Look At Men, June-August 2016 (bronze example exhibited).

Lot Essay

“I wanted to do something that was very humanistic to challenge the ideas that I was dealing with. I knew it would be a potent image and a challenge to my work, but I felt I had to do it at that time.” – Lynda Benglis

It was historic before it was even history. Lynda Benglis, then a 32-year-old rising artist with an upcoming solo exhibition at Paula Cooper, was to be the feature of a write-up in Art Forum’s November 1974 issue. Benglis envisioned a “centerfold” image of herself to accompany the article, but the editor at the time, John Coplans, refused. As a compromise, Coplans allowed it to be included as a paid advertisement—and thus began one of the more controversial art world moments of the 20th century.

Now known colloquially as the “Benglis ad,” it still retains its ability to shock: Benglis stands fully and confidently nude, donning only a suntan, an earring and white cat-eye sunglasses. Her left hand is placed on her hip, causing her shoulder to cock up seductively, while in her right hand she grasps a large, flesh-colored, double-pronged dildo and presses it firmly between her legs. She stares directly into the camera lens: empowered, self-assured, fearless. The stance came to be seen as a war cry, a declaration against the dominating patriarchy of the art world, and more generally speaking, of the mid-20th century social structure. A collective of artists including Jennifer Bartlett and Vito Acconci pronounced their support via telegram: “WE ADMIRE LYNDA BENGLIS WAY OF BYPASSING EDITORIAL CENSORSHIP.” Larry Bell publicly announced a request for a subscription to the publication—provided he could expect more material of the same caliber. Meanwhile, five associate editors at the magazine quit, lambasting Coplans’s decision to publish “extreme vulgarity;” two of them went on to form their own publication, October. It was controversy at its finest, pitting members of the same professional network against one another in an ideological battle, and raising questions of feminism and censorship that still resonate today.

In a tongue-and-cheek response to their resignation, Benglis produced five metal casts of the original plastic phallus—one for each of the editors. Two of these casts were used jointly to make the work Parenthesis, in which the works are displayed in a velvet-lined mahogany box, facing one another in a parenthetical arrangement. The other three casts compose the edition Smile, a humorous if not facetious commentary on the resentful reaction of Coplans’s team members. Two of these examples were cast in bronze, while only one—the present lot—was executed in lead. In its reactionary creation, Smile exists not only as a symbol of feminist creed, but also of satirical commentary: it is both metaphorically and literally a boomeranged retort, a proclamation of the final say. It also allows the legend of the “Benglis ad” to be remembered tangibly and in perpetuity, and it encourages the dialogue of feminism to endure. “As an art form women have always made art, whether they were under bondage or not, they have always created. You cannot kill creativity” (L. Benglis, quoted in ‘Lynda Benglis: “You cannot kill creativity,”’ Dazed and Confused, [accessed 1 August 2017]).

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