Over the course of her long career, Lynda Benglis has defied easy categorization. From her earliest days in New York, where she moved after graduating from Newcomb College in New Orleans in 1964, her buoyantly outspoken personality and boundless curiosity made her a familiar figure in Manhattan’s transformative 1960s art scene. Her early circle of friends included Barnett and Annalee Newman, Carl Andre, Gordon Hart, Joan Mitchell, Eva Hesse, and Dan Flavin, as well as her occasional informal collaborator, Robert Morris, whom she met during a stint on the Hunter College faculty. Now, at 75 years old, she remains enthusiastic about the art and artists she first encountered during that rapidly evolving era, when the long reign of Abstract Expressionism finally yielded to Pop, Op, and Process art, colorfield painting, Minimalism, and Post-Minimalism. Yet, even though her life and work sometimes seem to reflect a dizzyingly eclectic array of asso – ciations, her elementally intuitive, processbased approach has remained remarkably consistent.
The most iconic of all the fountains at Storm King was surely Crescendo (2015), which is closely based on an earlier bronze fountain, The Wave of the World, created in 1983 as a commission for an upcoming world’s fair. Like its predecessor, Crescendo features a cresting bronze wave-form that suggests a lunging predatory beast frozen in time and space. Although broadly reminiscent of Hokusai’s woodblock print, The Great Wave, Benglis’s grasping spray of water springs not from a vast, coiling tsunami, but from onrushing lava-like forms that resonate with something more viscerally earthy, or even chthonic, if no less foreboding. The Wave of the World was both her first fountain and her first large bronze sculpture, and its history is no less mysterious than the forces it evokes. In 1982, she submitted a proposal for a fountain sculpture to the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition in New Orleans in response to a competition on the theme “The World of Rivers—Fresh Water as a Source of Life.” A jury including Henry Hopkins, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Otto Piene, director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at M.I.T., and E.L.L. de Wilde, director of the Stedelijk Museum in the Netherlands, selected her as one of three finalists, and the only Louisiana native. For Benglis, it was serendipitous: “I started working on the idea for the piece much earlier, back in the 1970s, but for one reason or another it never happened until this came about.”
If the origins of The Wave of the World sound fateful, that was just the beginning of what turned out to be something of an odyssey and a mystery. After its six-month tenure as an emblematic part of the exposition, it mysteriously vanished without a trace. Although it is unclear how an 18- foot-long bronze sculpture weighing over two tons could just disappear, for nearly 30 years no one had any idea where it was, until, suddenly in 2013, it just as mysteriously turned up again, in a shed at a Kenner, Louisiana, waste-processing plant. Explanations for how and why the work came to be there have remained extremely murky, somehow involving a mysterious casino in Monte Carlo, where it had languished on the grounds, hidden in plain sight, for decades. Intact, though somewhat tarnished, its surprise reappearance offers yet another example of the role that chance has played in so many aspects of Benglis’s uniquely complex aesthetic.
Read the entire article on Sculpture’s website.