Lee Bontecou, American, born 1931, Detail of Untitled. 1980-1998, Welded steel, porcelain, wire mesh, canvas, and wire. 213.4 x 243.8 x 182.9 cm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Philip Johnson (by exchange) and the Nina and Gordon Bunshaft Bequest Fund, © 2010 Lee Bontecou.

Lee Bontecou and the Sea Changes of the 20th Century

Lee Bontecou, American, born 1931, Untitled. 1962, Pencil on paper, 50.2 x 64.8 cm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Sally and Wynn Kramarsky, © 2010 Lee Bontecou.

Lee Bontecou, American, born 1931, Untitled. 1985, Charcoal, pencil, and colored pencil on colored paper, 55.9 x 76.2 cm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection Gift, © 2010 Lee Bontecou.

Lee Bontecou, American, born 1931, Untitled. 1961, Welded steel, canvas, black fabric, copper wire, and soot, 203.6 x 226 x 88 cm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Kay Sage Tanguy Fund, © 2010 Lee Bontecou.

Lee Bontecou, American, born 1931, Untitled. 1959, Welded steel, canvas, black fabric and wire. 58 1/8 x 58 1/2 x 17 3/8" (147.5 x 148.5 x 44 cm), The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Arnold H. Maremont, © 2010 Lee Bontecou.

 

Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
212-708-9400
New York
The Werner and Elaine Dannheisser Gallery,
Fourth Floor
Lee Bontecou: All Freedom in Every Sense
April 21-August 30, 2010

Lee Bontecou (born Providence, Rhode Island, 1931) first exhibited steel-and-canvas sculptures at New York’s Leo Castelli Gallery in the 1960s. Although they bear little resemblance to the Minimalist and Pop art of time, these wall-mounted sculptures — made in New York between 1959 and 1967— elicited acclaim and curiosity. Writing about one of them, a reviewer asked, “Is it a pterodactyl? A spaceship? An outsize artichoke or a monstrous whorl of giant flower corollas?” Bontecou’s vision encompasses all these possibilities. For decades she has not titled her work, preferring not to restrict how it may be understood.

Her excitement about the Space Race and memories of World War II are fundamental to her visual language. While her art defies easy classification, suggestions of infinite expanse, anxiety, and threat are pervasive, expressed, for example, in black circular forms, insistent motifs in her work. The cavernous black voids of her steel-and-canvas sculptures and the deep black circles of her drawings conjure associations as varied as volcanic craters, jet engines, eye sockets, and cosmic black holes, invoking what the artist has described as “the visual wonders and horrors” of the natural and man-made worlds.

Bontecou left New York City in 1971 and has worked primarily in rural Pennsylvania, where her engagement of the natural world has become more pronounced. The sculpture at the center of this installation — a slowly whirling galaxy of forms she worked on for 18 years — represents a fulfillment of her longstanding desire to create art that celebrates “as much of life as possible — no barriers — no boundaries — all freedom in every sense.”

Featuring three sculptures and more than a dozen works on paper by American artist Lee Bontecou, this installation spans four decades of the artist's career, from 1958 to 1998. Known for richly evocative forms that conjure biological, geological, and technological motifs, Bontecou has described "the natural world and its wonders and horrors" as a central preoccupation of her career. Among the earliest works presented are large drawings made of velvety soot and wall-mounted sculptures composed of salvaged canvas stitched to elaborate welded steel armatures. The centerpiece of the installation — on view in this building for the first time — is a recently acquired suspended sculpture that highlighted the artist's 2004 retrospective at MoMA QNS. This large untitled mobile is composed of sections of translucent wire mesh and small porcelain orbs attached to an intricate network of wire that radiate from a central blue porcelain sphere.

The installation is organized by Veronica Roberts, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Paintings and Sculpture.

Lee Bontecou, American, born 1931, Untitled. 1976, Pencil and colored pencil on prepared paper, 38.1 x 27.9 cm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection Gift, © 2010 Lee Bontecou.

Lee Bontecou, American, born 1931, Tenth stone. 1968, Lithograph. Irreg. composition, 95.7 x 56.9 cm, sheet 104.4 x 71 cm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Celeste and Armand Bartos Foundation, © 2010 Lee Bontecou.

Lee Bontecou, American, born 1931, Untitled. 1980-1998, Welded steel, porcelain, wire mesh, canvas, and wire. 213.4 x 243.8 x 182.9 cm, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Philip Johnson (by exchange) and the Nina and Gordon Bunshaft Bequest Fund, © 2010 Lee Bontecou.