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MoMA Offers Intimate Installation Featuring Sculptures by Lee Bontecou
Lee Bontecou, (American, born 1931) Untitled. 1961. Welded steel, canvas, black fabric, copper wire, and soot. 6' 8 1/4" x 7' 5" x 34, 3/4" (203.6 x 226 x 88 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Kay Sage Tanguy Fund. ©2010, Lee Bontecou.

NEW YORK, NY.- Featuring three sculptures and more than a dozen works on paper by American artist Lee Bontecou (b. 1931), this intimate installation spans four decades of the artist’s career, from 1958 to 1998. Known for her 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 was one of the highlights of 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. Made over an 18-year period from 1980 to 1998, it presents a galaxy of forms and represents a fulfillment of Bontecou’s longstanding desire to create art that encompasses “as much of life as much of life as possible—no barriers—no boundaries -all freedom in every sense.”

Lee Bontecou (born Providence, Rhode Island, 1931) first exhibited her steel and canvas sculptures at New York’s prominent Leo Castelli Gallery in the 1960s. Although they bear little resemblance to the Minimalist and Pop art dominant at the time, these wall-mounted sculptures—made in New York between 1959 and 1967—elicited both critical 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 imaginative vision encompasses all of these possibilities. For decades she has left her work untitled, preferring not to restrict the ways in which it may be understood.

Bontecou’s excitement about the Space Race and her memories of the Second World War 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 the black circular forms that have been 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.

In 1971 Bontecou left New York City. Since then she has worked primarily in rural Pennsylvania, where her engagement with the natural world has become more pronounced. The sculpture suspended at the center of this installation—a slowly whirling galaxy of forms she worked on for eighteen 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.”

MoMA | Lee Bontecou | Sculptures |

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