Tom Bamberger
In Public

Why I Fell for the Pink Lady

The Lynda Benglis sculpture takes time to charm you. It’s not drive-by art.

By - Aug 3rd, 2017 01:31 pm

Pink Lady (for Asha), 2013 by Lynda Benglis. Photo by Tom Bamberger.Pink Lady (for Asha), 2013, one of the 22 sculptures installed on Wisconsin Avenue and which I photographed, is in a shady nook just west of the Pfister Hotel. When I got there I figured it would take about 20 minutes for the sun to rise above the building and shine on the art. Luckily this was the only place on the entire expanse of Wisconsin Avenue where I could sit down and wait.

So I sat. A cook from the Pfister was smoking a cigarette. He struck up a conversation. He loved his job, “They treat people right,” he said. A young woman wandered in, sat down, and started checking her phone. She worked around the corner at a salon.

Then Brett, an acquaintance who happened to be passing by, sat down and told me what he didn’t like about the sculpture. Distracted, fiddling with my camera, and framing the picture, I don’t remember what he said. It was a luxurious work situation compared to all the other sculptures I photographed. For whatever reason, Wisconsin Avenue is designed more for plants than for people.

When I first saw the sculpture, it looked like glowing kitsch — a lava lamp or something along the lines of a velvet painting. The florid pink polyurethane was tacky and overwrought. It looked like something a child would make out of dripped candle wax. The Pink Lady seemed chintzy and muddled.

The work is by Lynda Benglis, a big time artist who was influenced by Eva Hesse, Donald Judd, and Sol LeWitt, one of whose works is on 4th and Wisconsin. The Museum of Modern Art did a retrospective of her work in 2009. Experts tell us she is part of the pantheon.

In short, Benglis is a genius and you are not. The art world is very good at promulgating itself at our expense.

Sitting took a load off my feet and my brain. As time went on the Pink Lady started to change. The color became resonant and playful, a tropical exuberance compared to the muted palette of Milwaukee. The cascade of water — the work is actually a fountain — changed the viscosity of the piece. There’s the sound, bubbling water on the top, splashing and spilling onto the next step. Three molten conical shapes rise up and water falls down.

It wasn’t love at first sight, but the Pink Lady turned out to be very good company. The art soaked in.

None of these qualities can be seen in a picture. There is no lapse of time in a photograph. Or from the car, which is the way most of the people who opined to me about art saw the sculptures on Wisconsin Avenue. In less than a second at 30 mph, out of the corner their eye. Aren’t you supposed to be looking at the road?

“One must learn to love,” Nietzsche once wrote about music. “To see art fully we need to exercise effort and good will in order to endure it in spite of its strangeness…we need patience.” In return the art will show us “a new, ineffable beauty: that is its thanks for our hospitality.”

The Pink Lady is an intimate affair, like a sit-down dinner. Be somewhere long enough to change your mind. Be present for a work of art to have a presence.

The site has to be hospitable as well. I counted 50 planters along the five city blocks between Plankinton and 6th street. And no place to sit and pass the time. Wisconsin Avenue is designed to be someplace else.

Pink Lady (for Asha), 2013 by Lynda Benglis. Photo by Tom Bamberger.

11 thoughts on “In Public: Why I Fell for the Pink Lady”

  1. Thallis Hoyt Drake says:

    What a delightful read! One of the most engaging articles I’ve ever come across on this site. Thank you!

  2. judith moriarty says:

    Okay, so I isit and revisit Pink Lady and still find it to be Nietzsche then wrong about how to fully appreciate art? Of course he does say “appreciate,” and does not say “like.” Are those one and the same?

  3. Huck L. Berry says:

    There is little to appreciate here. The Pink Lady looks like raw meat cones on a spit, ready to be roasted for Gyros or Doner Kebab.

  4. Jan says:

    There’s no rule that says everyone must like the same art! While I happen to like “Pink Lady”, someone else might prefer a piece down the street….it’s okay people, relax. Have fun with it. Opinions are just that; opinions.
    It is unfortunate about the lack of seating downtown, it is probably an effort to discourage so-called loitering. You might notice that NML has installed new bus shelters with slightly raised partitions forming ‘seats’. This also makes it extremely uncomfortable for ‘anyone’ to lie down.

  5. Ed says:

    Agree with you completely, Thallis.

    In my experience, Mr. Bamberger has a rare gift for writing intelligently about art and architecture in a way that is accessible to non-experts like me.

    Check out his terrific in-sights regarding the Milwaukee Art Museum’s expansion:

  6. Thomas bamberger says:

    Judy and Huck,

    I am not sure you get my drift. My larger point is sometimes you can’t experience a work of art from a car or on the web, especially this sculpture.

    Did either of you sit where I did? You can dislike most things in an instant on the web. Loving something, or just liking can take time.


  7. Huck L. Berry says:

    With all due respect, your larger point is hardly a complicated concept.

    It doesn’t matter if I sat exactly where you sat. I think the setting is nice, but the sculpture is not. I find it pretentious, void of any real artistic talent, and hesitate to even call it art. It strikes me as a lost opportunity to do something creative with a unique medium. I’m glad you were able to appreciate it over time; it’s just not for me.

    I’d rather see a pink-crystalline fountain of that hefty fellow sitting on the planter (in your first pic) — at least he looks like an interesting character.

  8. Thomas bamberger says:


    All I am suggesting is you haven’t experienced this work of art yet. I am not saying you have to sit where I did. I’m saying have an experience, of the actual object. You might change your mind as I did.

  9. Huck L. Berry says:

    I have seen it, I don’t like it, and I’m not going back for another look. On the other hand, if I had an extra $400,000 laying around I would buy Big Piney. Immigrant Family, S2, and Reina Mariana are great pieces too.

  10. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    Having read your review, now I must visit this Pink Lady!

  11. Bill Sell says:

    A quick comment about your writing, Tom. Not specifically the Wisconsin Avenue art which I need to walk to and sit down for.

    Your writing is principled and yet – notably this particular comment – you allow the readers the space to engage their own thoughts. Once I learned that I was in charge of my own thoughts, I realized that art can well ask me questions, leave me unsettled, alienated, enriched, pleased or even annoyed. I do not matter to the artist until I engage the artist and let the issues bubble up. Public art provokes the mind of the community in a like way; we learn from each other as well. And, yes, benches matter.

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