Two impressively eccentric artists

… in the current (August 29th) issue of the New Yorker: earth artist Michael Heizer (the subject of a profile by Dana Goodyear) and sculptor and painter Lynda Benglis, one of the arists in a current show “The Female Gaze, Part Two: Women Look at Men”. There will also be a bonus on artist Sylvia Sleigh.

(Mostly about art rather than language — plus another bulletin in the News for Penises series.)

Heizer. I’ll lead with his masterwork:


Heizer, a pioneer of the earthworks movement, began “City” in 1972. A mile and a half long and inspired by ancient ritual cities, it is made from rocks, sand, and concrete mined and mixed on site. (photo by Jamie Hawkesworth)

The bland background, from Wikipedia:

Michael Heizer is a contemporary artist specializing in large-scale sculptures and earth art (or land art).

Michael Heizer was born in Berkeley, California, in 1944, the son of the distinguished University of California, Berkeley archaeologist Dr. Robert Heizer. He spent a year in high school, in France. He attended the San Francisco Art Institute (1963–64) and moved to New York City (1966), where he found a loft on Mercer Street in SoHo and began producing conventional, small-scale paintings and sculptures.

In the late 1960s, Heizer left New York City for the deserts of California and Nevada, where he began to produce large-scale works that could not fit into a museum setting, except perhaps in photographs.

Now a little bit of the Goodyear piece, “A Monument to Outlast Humanity: In the Nevada desert, the pioneering artist Michael Heizer completes his colossal life’s work”:

Throughout his career, in paintings and in sculptures, Heizer has explored the aesthetic possibilities of emptiness and displacement; his voids have informed public art from the Vietnam Memorial to the pits at Ground Zero. “Levitated Mass,” a three-hundred-and-forty-ton chunk of granite that since 2012 has been permanently installed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is one of the few sculptures in the world designed to be walked under, an experience that strikes most visitors as harrowing. Heizer once told Vander Weg he’d like his tombstone to read, “Totally Negative.”

“City” is a monumental architectonic work, with dimensions comparable to those of the National Mall, in Washington, D.C., and a layout informed by pre-Columbian ritual cities like Teotihuacan. Heizer started it in 1972, when he was in his late twenties and had already established himself as an instigator of the earthworks movement, a group of artists, including Robert Smithson and Walter De Maria, who made totemic outdoor sculptures, often in the majestic wastelands of the American West. “City” is made almost entirely from rocks, sand, and concrete that Heizer has mined and mixed on site. The use of valueless materials is strategic, a hedge against what he sees as inevitable future social unrest. “My good friend Richard Serra is building out of military-grade steel,” he says. “That stuff will all get melted down. Why do I think that? Incans, Olmecs, Aztecs—their finest works of art were all pillaged, razed, broken apart, and their gold was melted down. When they come out here to fuck my ‘City’ sculpture up, they’ll realize it takes more energy to wreck it than it’s worth.”

It’s very funny, and perceptive as well — but then Heizer is a monumental character.

[Later addendum: an 8/15/15 posting “Stickwork” on this blog, on Patrick Dougherty’s stickwork sculpture; and on earth art / earthwork sculpture / environmental art / ecological art / land art (by Robert Smithson, Andy Goldsworthy, Aviva Rahmani).]

Benglis. The New Yorker notice of the show:

“The Female Gaze, Part Two: Women Look at Men”: June 23 – August 31, Cheim & Read, 547 W. 25th St. NYC

Freud called it schaulust: the pleasure, always libidinal and sometimes pathological, of looking at someone else. Historically, women have been the primary object of that scrutiny in painters’ studios, but here the tables are turned, in works by thirty-two artists, whose depictions of men range from forensic to tender. The nudes can be sexy (Sylvia Sleigh’s 1971 portrait of a shaggy-haired man [Paul Rosano] in a Danish-modern chair), but they are rarely wanton, even when the young London artist Celia Hempton depicts her friend on his hands and knees. The sculptures, by contrast, are downright Bacchic, as when Lynda Benglis fuses two curving phalluses into a single bronze smile.


I’m assuming that, like the penis letters in the logo for the film Orgy (8/14 posting here), such phallic simulcra escape the WordPress, Facebook, and Google+ no-dick strictures. (On penis letters: there are entire penis fonts you can find on the net.) In any case, these are penises as design elements, not as functioning body parts.

On the intrepid Benglis, from Wikipedia:

Lynda Benglis (born October 25, 1941 in Lake Charles, Louisiana) is an American sculptor and visual artist known especially for her wax paintings and poured latex sculptures. She currently lives between New York City; Santa Fe; Kastelorizo, Greece [she is Greek American]; and Ahmedabad, India [her (male) life partner Anand Sarabhai is from Ahmedabad].

… Benglis felt underrepresented in the male-run artistic community and so confronted the “male ethos” in a series of magazine advertisements satirizing pin-up girls, Hollywood actresses, and traditional depictions of nude female models in canonical works of art. Benglis chose the medium of magazine advertisements as it allowed her complete control of an image rather than allowing it to be run through critical commentary. This series culminated with a particularly controversial one in the November 1974 issue of Artforum featuring Benglis aggressively posed with a large latex dildo and wearing only a pair of sunglasses promoting an upcoming exhibition of hers at the Paula Cooper Gallery. Benglis paid $3,000 for the Artforum ad. One of her original ideas for the advertisement had been for her and collaborative partner Robert Morris to work together as a double pin-up, but eventually found that using a double dildo was sufficient as she found it to be “both male and female”. Morris, too, put out an advertisement for his work in that month’s Artforum which featured himself in full “butch” S&M regalia.

Bonus: Sleigh. Also mentioned in the Female Gaze writeup: Sylvia Sleigh. From a 10/28/10 posting of mine on the occasion of her death:

a British-born [specifically, Welsh] artist who put a feminist spin on the portrait genre by painting male nudes in poses that recalled the female subjects of Ingres, Velázquez and Titian …

That posting had no images. But Sleigh’s work is both witty and sexy, and deserves some coverage here. But for that I’ll have to compose an AZBlogX posting. In the meantime, here’s some material from her Wikipedia article:

Sylvia Sleigh (Llandudno, Gwynedd, Wales, 8 May 1916—24 October 2010, New York, NY) was a Welsh-born naturalised American realist painter.

… Around 1970, from feminist principles, she painted a series of works reversing stereotypical artistic themes by featuring nude men in poses that were traditionally associated with women, like the reclining Venus or odalisque. Some directly alluded to existing works, such as her gender-reversed version of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’s The Turkish Bath (1863), which depicts a group of art critics, including her husband Lawrence Alloway (reclining at the lower right). Philip Golub Reclining (1971) similarly appropriates the pose of the Rokeby Venus by Diego Velázquez. This work also presents a reversal of the male-artist/female-muse pattern typical of the Western canon and is reflective of research into the position of women throughout the history of art as model, mistress, and muse, but rarely as artist−genius. For example, throughout her career, she painted over thirty works that feature her husband as her subject. …

In her male nudes, her subject “is used as a vehicle to express erotic feelings, just as male artists have always used the female nude”. … in her works, such as Paul Rosano reclining (1974) and Imperial Nude (1975), she portrays her male subjects in typical female poses

Stay tuned.

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