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Lynda Benglis


Not on view



Pigmented latex

Overall (irregular): 3 × 116 1/4 × 398 1/4in. (7.6 × 295.3 × 1011.6 cm) Overall (thickness of latex): 1/8in. (0.3 cm)

Accession number

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee and partial gift of John Cheim and Howard Read

Rights and reproductions
© Lynda Benglis / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


In 1969, Lynda Benglis began to experiment with pouring liquid rubber latex to make large-scale works such as Contraband. In this and other related works, Benglis mixed bright, DayGlo pigments into cans of the latex and then poured the material onto waxed linoleum or directly onto the floor, allowing the substance to be itself, subject to physical laws and gravity. The scale of Contraband was determined by the location in which it was made and its contours are defined by the natural flow of the latex on the surface where it was formed. With no support apart from its organic “skin” of pigment, it represents Benglis’s inventive fusion of painting and sculpture. Using a material that is not itself paint, the artist nonetheless draws attention to paint's essential, primary properties: color and liquidity. Benglis named this work Contraband after a bayou near her childhood home in Louisiana. She has said that the artwork reminded her of toxic oil slicks on the water.

Visual Description

Lynda Benglis,Contraband, 1969.Contrabandis an irregularly shaped pigmented latex “spill” displayed on the floor. The spill measures just over 9 feet tall and 33 feet wide and is about an inch thick. It is positioned diagonally in the middle of the gallery space. Composed of blue, green, red, orange, yellow, and the hues made from colors mixing, this work offers a non-shape as a deliberate alternative to the rigidity of paintings stretched on canvas. The spill’s center is primarily dark blue with pink, yellow, and flecks of green swirled within. The blue “center” extends tendrils of varying sizes to the upper right where the blue latex pools, almost suggesting a river’s course meeting the mouth of an ocean. On the left side of the spill, orange, yellow, and red gather to resemble bumbling lava, a gooey portal where some greens and blues swirl and puddle. Like many of her contemporaries, Benglis didn’t try to represent specific images or content in her work. But her approach was  influenced by nature, politics, bodily emissions, and contemporary technologies. 

The work’s title,Contraband, references a bayou of the same name near her childhood home in Louisiana, and Benglis said the work reminded her of oil slicks on the water. This reference, along with the artwork’s faded Day Glo hues and industrial scale, brings to mind the destruction of natural landscapes. In doing so,Contrabandmight even question art’s relationship to the environment and the resources we extract from it.