Lynda Benglis’s portrait of herself scandalized not because it supplanted the phallus but because it ridiculed it.
In the December 1974 issue of Artforum, five editors published and co-signed a letter “publically disassociating” themselves from portions of the previous issue. The letter cites the “extreme vulgarity” and “brutalizing” effect of an advertisement placed in the November 1974 issue by and for a New York artist, a sculptor, appearing as herself in the image. New York artist, a sculptor, appearing as herself in the image. The editors condemn the uncouthness of the ad as a harmful mockery not only of their personal sensibilities but also of the larger (and conveniently undefined) “aims of [the women’s] movement.” Another grievance: As art writers and editors, these five felt professionally compromised by their forced complicity with the artist’s self-exploitation—or worse, self-promotion, “in the most debased sense of the term.”
Professional feminists agreed, with Cindy Nemster accusing the artist of “making a frantic bid for male attention.” Art historians were scandalized. School principals pulled their schools’ Artforum subscriptions. The magazine received more letters for a single issue than it had in its 13-year history. In Philadelphia, a man reportedly stormed into a museum, waving his copy of the issue, and toppled over one of the artist’s works. In a no less extreme reaction, the two women among those five editors—Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson—would soon quit the magazine to start October. Everyone knew their departure had begun with an advertisement.