Urgent Museum Notice

Image for Material Deception: Honor Freeman And Lynda Benglis

Material Deception: Honor Freeman and Lynda Benglis

Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight

Two sculptures on view in NMWA’s third-floor galleries have much in common despite strong visual differences. Eridanus (1984) by Lynda Benglis is a large metal work that appears twisted and hung like a piece of fabric. Honor Freeman’s Tupperware—Transforming a Chaotic Kitchen (2008) is a set of realistic porcelain replicas of early Tupperware products.
Materials and Meaning

A visitor gazes at Lynda Benglis’s Eridanus at NMWA
A visitor gazes at Lynda Benglis’s Eridanus at NMWA

Both sculptures highlight conflicts between material, appearance, and subject to create meaning. Benglis’s use of metal evokes Minimalist sculpture, a genre strongly associated with male artists. The hardness and heaviness of metal contrasts with the work’s soft, fabric-like appearance. By manipulating metal to look like fabric, the artist combats the frequent stereotyping of female artists’ work as soft, feminine, and delicate—whereas even similar work by men is viewed differently.
Freeman’s work also juxtaposes material and appearance. The use of porcelain, a fine art material, to create 59 representations of common household Tupperware plays with traditional distinctions between gender, quality, and craft. The elevation of Tupperware to display-worthy status mirrors the elevation of ceramics and other craft works to the status of fine art.
Beauty and Artifice
These works also share themes of artifice and beautification. In Eridanus, the illusion of shimmering silver fabric is disrupted by one rust-colored piece of metal that juts out instead of hanging gracefully. This disruption draws attention to both the material and the artifice of the rest of sculpture, which is styled to look soft and pretty.

Installation view of Honor Freeman’s work; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA
Installation view of Honor Freeman’s work; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Described by the artist as a “ghost” or “memory of a past form,” Tupperware—Transforming a Chaotic Kitchen creates a sense of nostalgia for a domestic ideal of past eras. However, the knowledge that this is a reconstruction in porcelain rather than the authentic plastic containers reminds viewers that they are not seeing—or remembering—things exactly as they are. This frames the idealized version of the past as a false memory, a beautification of historical reality.
Gender and Opportunity
Both sculptures deal with the social status of women as artists and workers. By drawing parallels with a celebrated but male-dominated art movement, Eridanus reminds viewers that women artists face professional inequities. The sculpture references issues of gender, interpretation, and sexism that significantly impact the careers of female artists.
Freeman’s sculpture deals with the shifting status of women more broadly. Historically, selling Tupperware gave women new opportunities. The choice of this subject highlights the tension between nostalgia for the “better days” of the past and the less-than-ideal historical reality of many women’s lives. The elevation of domestic objects and “craft” techniques to the status of fine art may also celebrate the many economic and social advances women have made in recent history.
Visit NMWA to see Eridanus and Tupperware—Transforming a Chaotic Kitchen together in one third-floor gallery.

Related Posts

  • Women to Watch 2020: Dolores Furtado

    Posted: Oct 08, 2020 in Artist Spotlight
    Argentinian artist Dolores Furtado talks about her process and work, which is featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    A close up color photograph of a light skinned woman who stares unsmiling at the camera. She has chin-length blonde ombre hair, dark eyebrows, and blue-grey eyes. The background of the photo is blurred.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Edna Reindel: An Inspiring Artist for an Unprecedented Time

    Posted: May 27, 2020 in Artist Spotlight
    Edna Reindel's "Women at War" paintings express her viewpoint that humans endure—and even thrive— during challenging times when they work communally and pursue equity.
    Painting of a light-skinned woman wearing safety goggles and working with machinery in an industrial warehouse setting. In the background, other light-skinned figures work on airplane parts.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Xaviera Simmons: “How might our entire history have been different…?”

    Posted: Jan 08, 2020 in Artist Spotlight
    In her writings on racial and social justice, Xaviera Simmons has expressed a desire to understand what it takes to shift political systems. Her art works to shift our notions of race, history, and collective narratives.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight