Quartered Meteor is a lead sculpture to be displayed in the corner of a gallery space. The work is a cast of a form originally made from piled layers of polyurethane foam. Benglis first made foam sculptures as works in themselves; these were by necessity temporary and ephemeral. Casting the foam works in bronze not only ensured their longevity as artworks; it was a deliberate attempt to subvert and make uncanny the material presence of the objects. In this work the static, heavy nature of the lead is at odds with the foam’s amorphous shape, recalling the appearance of cooled lava.
Benglis is one of the key figures of American Post-Minimal art of the 1960s and 1970s. She is arguably best known for brightly coloured poured latex works. However the metal sculptures of which Quartered Meteor is a seminal example represent an important part of her early practice. Like many other artists of her generation, Benglis often worked from the principle that form should be derived from the inherent qualities of her chosen materials. Transformed from foamy globs into solid masses of metal, these works signal the artist’s sophisticated understanding of the differing nature of materials.
The curator and critic Richard Marshall has described Benglis’ intention with these works, saying:
The artist was fascinated with metals not only because of their permanence, but primarily because of their inherent attributes – energy, reflective surface, value as a natural resource, and capability of being returned to a liquid state. Quartered Meteor suggests a molten mass that has entered the earth’s atmosphere and slammed into a corner (Marshall, p.6).
Critic Tom Hess expands on the cast sculptures’ reference to natural processes:
Benglis’ concern with making soft things hard while preserving their insouciant memories of softness may or may not have something to do with feminism, phallicism, and other politico-sensualities. She is more concerned, I think, with the Romantic concept of the artist as a force of Nature. Nature can change states – freeze water, melt rocks; Benglis, too, can congeal or liquefy matter – and in the process make sculpture as calculated, precise, and refined as icicles (quoted in press release for ‘Bettina Rheims/Lynda Benglis’, Cheim & Read, New York 2002, http://www.cheimread.com/exhibitions/2002_10_bettina-rheims--lynda-benglis/?view=pressrelease).
Tate’s work is the first of an edition of three. It is the sole edition to have been cast in 1975, and the only edition made in lead. Two subsequent editions in aluminium have been produced but these are double-dated, ensuring that they will remain distinguished from the vintage cast owned by Tate.
Richard Marshall, Lynda Benglis, exhibition catalogue, Cheim & Read, New York 2004, reproduced in colour p.17.
Carter Radcliffe, Lynda Benglis, exhibition catalogue, Locks Gallery, Philadelphia 2002.