I’ll stay with you… Lynda Benglis casts self-adhesive products (1971).Photo: © Lynda Benglis/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2024
A large untidy lump of solidified black polyurethane foam collapses in a corner, the cast material stopping mid-stream. There is something irreducible about Lynda Benglis’ Untitled (Köln) from 1970; it has an air of finality, art reduced to gravity, chemistry and formlessness.
The sculpture comes near the end of Beyond Form: Lines of Abstraction 1950-70, which fills the halls of Turner Contemporary. Before reaching Benglis, we took a tour of post-war art, from the hurried lines and dots, spots and scribbles of the Indian artist Arpita Singh, like a furious glossolalia, to the rigorous, cool, systemic art of Gillian Wise and of Mary Martin, with their uncurved surfaces, their mirrors and Perspex rectangles, their logic and their rigorous, mathematically derived constructions.
We encountered a bulging wall of woven threads by Sheila Hicks and a pointed bronze relief called Katmandu by Dorothy Dehner, a work so reminiscent of the 1950s that I feel like I’ve gone back to my childhood. Something like a vase or a torso with unspeakable wounds and bits chewed out by shrapnel and a single glassy eye stares back at me, in a terracotta sculpture by Czech artist Daniela Vinopalová, and a disturbing nest of phallic bulges protrude from their foreskins in a latex and plaster sculpture by Louise Bourgeois.
The title belies the ambition and scope of an exhibition that extends into the 1970s and which explores body parts, formal accuracy and strangeness, the mathematical, the political, the woven, the painted, the cast, the constructed, the handmade and the machine includes. assisted. The lines of abstraction go in all directions. As curator Flavia Frigeri says: pure form does not exist. All of the work here was created by women, many of whom were marginalized or even excluded from an art world that was predominantly male, white, and straight, at a time when feminism was slowly gaining popularity. Often their works were denigrated in both the West and the Soviet bloc as crafts or interior decoration – which, perversely, also allowed women artists a certain freedom from the ideological constraints that controlled and controlled artistic production in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union censored by not considering it art at all.
Slovak artist Maria Bartuszová created sculptures that were used as teaching aids for visually impaired children, to assist with their sensory awareness. She often worked with balloons filled with liquid plaster, letting gravity determine her shapes. One here is like a single, gigantic raindrop in plaster, hanging from the ceiling like a weight on a plumb bob. Nearby, a thin rubber tube drops to the ground from a lumpy black disk hanging in a black square on the wall. The tube twists as it hits the ground and seems to have a purpose, like the proboscis of an insect, in one of Eva Hesse’s two works. It’s always good to see Hesse. In a second work, the discs have multiplied and become breast-like, and instead of rubber, gray rope wraps around the floor. Do we need to know what this is? Does it have to be something other than itself?
Stacked like spaghetti, a spotlight-lit tangle of blue, yellow and silver aluminum tubes meanders in another corner. Chain by Claire Falkenstein, made sometime in the sixties, twists and pirouettes. The LA-based artist’s work is as much drawing as sculpture, and is as whimsical and abstract as string theory. Nearby, Brazilian Lygia Clark’s hinged sheet steel forms fold and open under glass on their pedestals. Clark’s Bichos were meant to be manipulated by the viewer, their forms were always in motion and had no definitive shape. The interaction with her work was somehow meant to be therapeutic. Now they lie inert under glass and cannot be handled.
A 1965 canvas by Agnes Martin, covered with a grid drawn in faint red colored pencil, traced with graphite pencil lines, is virtually invisible behind glass. The whole thing is supposed to hum, but the delicate, ephemeral overall effect, created with extremely limited self-imposed resources (which is the whole point of Martin’s work) is completely lost by the environmental reflections. But that’s making exhibitions for you. Curators, like artists, must work with what is available and what is possible.
Marisa Merz worked in the kitchen on her monstrous, unwieldy Untitled (Living Sculpture) from 1966, whose broken aluminum pipes now twist, twist and dangle from the ceiling like intestines in a butcher’s shop. She made the tubes from strips of aluminum, cut, bent and stapled on her kitchen table. The thing (what else would you call it?) was eventually hung above the table and later hung from the ceiling of a local nightclub. Fantastic and stark, and sticky with the accumulated, accidental residue of cooking and nightclub smoke, it is now Tate’s that curators have to worry about. The statue’s mundane origins give it a certain grandeur – and when you look up you don’t see the splashes or dirt.
One of the great pleasures here is the variety of approaches to materials and their handling. As varied and broad as the show is, there is also room for Merz and Barbara Hepworth, Benglis and Elizabeth Frink, sisal and thread and gunk and bronze, weaving and glass and a host of oppositional approaches. The precision with which Bridget Riley conducted her early experiments with back and white grids, and the accuracy with which Martin and Wise created their mathematically derived constructions and reliefs, might be at odds with Hannah Wilke’s five androgynous and vaginal sculptures, with their indeterminate terracotta statues. shapes that look as if they were modeled in the palm of her hand.
Japanese-American artist Ruth Asawa’s hanging form, created through crocheted loops of copper wire, feels as if it has been organically grown rather than created, and Italian artist Carla Accardi’s use of clear plastic packaging material, which she has placed on a canvas stapled and hastily covered with it. rhythmic markings in black varnish, leaving the wooden stretcher frame visible behind the repeated strokes of varnish. No matter how closely you look, you can see how Accardi’s work is made from the inside out. One thing here leads to another, and another thing, and another thing. It keeps coming, against all odds.
• Beyond Form: Lines of Abstraction, 1950-1970 is on view at Turner Contemporary, Margate, until May 6