David Platzker’s Specific Object Focuses on a Very Specific Object at Dependent Art Fair: Lynda Benglis’s Double-Sided Dildo

benglis David Platzkers Specific Object Focuses on a Very Specific Object at Dependent Art Fair: Lynda Bengliss Double Sided Dildo

The 1974 Artforum ad featuring Lynda Benglis.

The gallery and rare bookseller Specific Object had taken over a room at the Comfort Inn on Ludlow as part of the Dependent Art Fair, housed in a cramped hotel like the Armory Show used to be back in the ’90s. In one of the best installations we saw during the week the art fairs descended upon the city, Specific Object had filled the room with ephemera from the 1974 Lynda Benglis Artforum ad controversy, which meant that when you got off the elevator, you could see a nude Ms. Benglis from the hallway with her hand wrapped around a double-sided dildo that jutted out of her crotch. It wasn’t exactly the most unexpected thing we’ve ever seen at an inexpensive hotel, but it was up there.

The advertisement in the Nov. 1974 issue of Artforum was for an upcoming show at Paula Cooper Gallery and Ms. Benglis paid for it herself. In it, she wears nothing but a pair of sunglasses and flaunts the (quite large) dildo as much like a trophy as a sex object. She funded it by selling T-shirts with the image from the ad printed on them. One was in the room, laid out on the bed; it was for sale for $7,500. There was also a printing of the competing ad by Robert Morris, the contemporary and one-time lover of Ms. Benglis, dressed in S&M gear with a chain around his neck and dark sunglasses. It hung in the window, kitty-corner to the hotel’s own framed photographs of stock images of New York–an innocuous scene of the Statue of Liberty at sunset and a picturesque view of a leafy walkway in Central Park.

Mr. Morris’s frowning face was positioned in the hotel room in such a way that he appeared to be responding to the image of Ms. Benglis. His ad, it is worth mentioning, did not cause much of a stir.

But in the room were also the letters to the editor from the following month’s issue of Artforum. Five associate editors, including art historian Rosalind Krauss, had written to denounce the ad, listing several reasons why it should not have been printed. Among them: “it exists as an object of extreme vulgarity” and it is “a shabby mockery of the aims of the…movement for women’s liberation.”

It is now art world folklore: those editors left to found the more theoretically-oriented journal October; Ms. Benglis made a portrait of each of them: five bronze dildos. A picture of the work rested in front of the letter.

Displayed on the bed was a fairly thick binder of letters written to Artforum‘s editor-in-chief at the time, John Coplans, which were given to David Platzker, who runs Specific Object, by Ms. Benglis. Many of these contained only one line, requesting the cancellation of their subscription. Others were more indignant. (“Is Ms. Benglis’ double-sided dildo acceptable because it appears in a paid advertisement, or because it isn’t real? [It] has been rather obviously retouched–eliminating any trace of penis and testicles.”)

There was at least one letter that Coplans responded to. It was from Wesley Schroeder, the principal of Butler Middle School, who stocked their library with Artforum and had to answer some very perplexed questions from their young students when the November 1974 issue came out.

The editor suggested that the principal simply “tear the advertisement out of the magazine.”