|Lee Bontecou in her studio, photographed in 2003 by Will Brown,|
from Lee Bontecou: A Retrospective, details below.
Sculptor Lee Bontecou is someone whose work I have long admired. During my recent trip to New York, I visited the smallish exhibit of her work at the Museum of Modern Art, entitled "All Freedom In Every Sense." That title is a quote from Bontecou in a 2002 letter in which she said that she wanted her work to be about "as much of life as possible - no barriers - no boundaries - all freedom in every sense." (quoted by Elizabeth A.T.Smith in her essay about Bontecou in Lee Bontecou: A Retrospective, a beautiful book published in conjunction with a 2004 retrospective of Bontecou's work that was curated by Elizabeth A. T. Smith and Ann Philbin, co-organized by The Museum of Contemorary Art, Chicago and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.)
The course of Bontecou's art career is as original as her work. She hit the high point in the late 1950s and '60s, was "rediscovered" in the 1990s and came into her own in the 2000s. In part 2 of my post, I will go into more details of her history. Today I just want to show you some photos that I took at MoMA last month.
The MoMA show had only two of her wall-mounted steel, canvas and wire sculptures and they were two that MoMA owns. I'm not sure whether MoMA owns the other work in the show - mostly drawings and one work that hangs from above. Getting to see her wall sculptures up close and personal was a real treat for me because I could really look at the detail with my myopic perspective.
|Untitled, 1961, welded steel, canvas and wire, 80 1/4 x 89 x 34 3/4 inches.|
|Same piece viewed from left side.|
|Same piece viewed from right side.|
Bontecou learned to weld one summer at the Haystack School in Maine after studying painting at the Art Students League in New York and sculpture with William Zorach. During a Fullbright year in Rome, where she worked on sculptures of abstracted animal figures, she discovered that the blowtorch she used for welding could also be used as a drawing tool by turning off the oxygen so that it emitted soot. When she returned to the U.S. and began working in a studio on NYC's Lower East Side, she utilized the torch both for welding and drawing, creating welded steel armatures to which she attached pieces of worn canvas collected from a neighborhood laundry. She added varying shades of darkness to the canvas using soot from the torch.
|Soot drawing at MoMA. (Note for some reason this image won't rotate correctly. The two white dots that you see at top left of the image should actually be at the bottom. That means that this view shows the drawing on its side.|
|1959, welded steel, canvas and wire, 58 1/2 x 58 1/8 x 17 3/8 inches.|
|View of same piece from right side.|
|Bontecou's signature on same piece.|
Bontecou was quite successful with this work, showing at Leo Castelli's gallery and being accepted as one of very few women artists at the time. Her work continued to develop in new directions from these wall sculptures, and I'll show you more of this in my continuing post about her.
One of the directions in which her work developed was in airy, galaxy-like pieces that hung from the ceiling and were composed of hundreds of small pieces of wire, wire mesh, porcelain and other materials. MoMA had a large work of this type on display and I found it fascinating. It moved slowly in the air currents and cast intricate shadows on the cleverly-installed platform beneath it that also served to keep viewers at a distance.
Tune in again for part 2 in which I include more photos of Bontecou's work.