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Lynda Benglis lights up the New Museum


Phantom Credit: "Phantom" by Lynda Benglis

Lynda Benglis always has made her own rules.

At the start of her practice in the 1960s, she took painting off the wall, literally, with her “Fallen Paintings” — Day-Glo swirls of pigmented latex poured onto the floor. The process recalls Jackson Pollock’s splatter paintings, but the result is something that wholly belongs to Benglis.

Reacting against minimalism, her sculptures from the start were gaudy and in-your-face. Throughout her career, she’s experimented with form and material, and she’s still pushing the boundaries of contemporary art.

The retrospective of her work at the New Museum is small but powerful. The highlight is “Phantom,” pictured above, a glow-in-the-dark polyurethane foam sculpture, exhibited publicly here for the first time since its creation in 1971.

At the time, Benglis was experimenting with pouring foam over various structures, then removing them, leaving only the abstract foam casts. “Phantom” features five of these forms suspended from the wall.

The work is phosphorescent, which sounds cheesy, and in photographs it can even look cheesy, but in person the piece is breathtaking.

Upon entering the dark room, the viewer is greeted by these five spectral shapes, and they really do convey a sense of what is missing — i.e., the long-gone structures on which they were cast.

Of course, Benglis is having fun here. One of her inspirations for the piece was the haunted houses she visited as a kid. As with much of her work, she’s at play — with artistic norms, viewer expectations, etc.

Also on view

While you’re at the museum, pop upstairs for the George Condo exhibit.

The painter was brought to the fore of pop culture this winter when Kanye West chose him to do the cover art for his album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” But the art world has loved his inventive portraits of delightful grotesqueries for decades.

Tip: The artist recommends that you start on the fourth floor and then visit the third floor.

Above: "The Insane Queen," by George Condo.

If you go

• “Lynda Benglis” through June 19
• “George Condo: Mental States” through May 8

The New Museum, 235 Bowery, 212-219-1222

Warning: Both exhibits feature some pretty graphic sexual imagery. The faint of spirit should stay home (or at least not bring the kids).

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