The feminist art historian and critic Amelia Jones rightly holds up the disparity between Morris’s and Benglis’s receptions as even more evidence that the art world has always graded male and female artists on unfairly differing criteria. Yet while the image would certainly have been less intimidating were Benglis a man, gender isn’t the only critique at play. The critic Dave Hickey writes that “contrary to urban myth, male artists have always been welcoming to female artists—except for artists like Lynda Benglis … whose sheer talent and charisma scared the hell out of everybody, women included. In these cases gender insults are never about gender. They’re always about talent and sex.”
Essentially, Benglis wagged her sex as a middle finger to all the macho dicks that overpopulate the art world (and the women [editors] who suck them). The sculptor didn’t supplant manhood; she ridiculed it. In a letter sent to Artforum in support of Benglis, Arlene Raven and Ruth Iskin from the Center for Feminist Art Historical Studies in Los Angeles blame the editors’ “impassioned protest” toward the image on its “graphically show[ing] a woman achieving machismo—taboo for women, taken for granted in male artists—and, at the same time, mock[ing] machismo itself.” In The Art of Reflection: Women Artists’ Self-Portraiture in the Twentieth Century, Marsha Meskimmon rules that Benglis “self-consciously [adopted] the swagger of male artists,” holding “a huge erect dildo as though she had a penis” and thereby “usurping and parodying the strutting masculinity of her contemporaries.” While castration fears understandably surfaced in critiques, the indignation caused by the ad is less about Benglis’s gender-bending and more about her rule-breaking, decorum-shattering audacity. You can almost hear Krauss squirming in the sing-songy ire of the white girl in Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”: Oh my god, look at her [dick].
WHEN QUEEN LATIFAH COMES OUT AND ME AND NELLY HAVE THE SAME REACTION