‘If a Waterfall Freezes, How Do You Read It?’: Watch Lynda Benglis Translate the Energy of Painting Into Boundary-Blurring Sculpture

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Lynda Benglis. Production still from the "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 6 episode, "Boundaries." © Art21, Inc. 2012.

When most people think of the act of painting, they envision a Picasso-like figure, perhaps wearing a Breton-striped shirt or splattered apron, appraising a canvas with palette and brush in hand.

That couldn’t be further from the practice of Lynda Benglis. Though she is a self-proclaimed painter, Benglis is best known for her three-dimensional sculptures that take uncommon forms, made from bulbous lumps of latex, knotted drapery, and crimped metal.

“One thing that these works clearly do is state the process, the drawing, and the texture in equal form,” Benglis said In an exclusive interview with Art21 filmed back in 2012 as part of the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” series. Ideas from painting are translated into three-dimensional objects.

Her works are documents of action—”all of them are drawn with either a bucket or a can”—and so they all appear frozen mid-movement. Benglis describes her early childhood in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where she first encountered waterways that held her imagination. “I’m very interested in how things change through our reading of the gravity and the form,” she tells Art21. “If a waterfall freezes, how do you read it?”

Production still from the "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 6 episode, "Boundaries." © Art21, Inc. 2012.

Production still from the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” Season 6 episode, “Boundaries.” © Art21, Inc. 2012.

Right now at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., 33 of the artist’s sculptures, paintings, drawings, prints, and videos are on view in an exhibition that traces the arc of Benglis’s decades-long career. In the breadth of her work, her interest in movement is evident: a coiled aluminum work covered in paper falls out of a wall like innards; a flat work consisting of poured pigment and latex pools on the floor like a miniature hot spring; and so on.

Even the works that seem static are in fact what she describes as “an explosion of energy… it’s embryonic, it grows, it comes about, it extends.”


Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Art in the Twenty-First Century series, below. “Lynda Benglis” is on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. through January 2, 2022.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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