Lee Bontecou

Lee Bontecou

Lee Bontecou: A Retrospective is the most comprehensive exhibition ever assembled of this influential 20th century American artist—one of the few women artists to receive major recognition in the 1960s. Co-organized by the Hammer Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the exhibition features approximately 70 sculptures and 80 drawings from private and public collections as well as from the artist’s own holdings. It documents the complexity and scope of Lee Bontecou’s art, from the late 1950s through 2003, with many works that have rarely or never before been publicly shown during the past 30 years.

The exhibition was curated by Elizabeth A.T. Smith, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, in association with Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum. 

Lee Bontecou: A Retrospective. Installation view at Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. October 5, 2003-January 11, 2004. Photo by Joshua White.

Essay

By Elizabeth A. T. Smith

One of the few women artists to achieve broad recognition in the 1960s, Lee Bontecou created a strikingly original body of work from the late 1950s to the present. Co-organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the Hammer Museum, this exhibition surveys almost fifty years of her work, including numerous recent sculptures and drawings that have never before been exhibited. It provides an extraordinary opportunity to reconsider an artist who has become a legendary figure due to the powerful impact of her work of the 1960s and 1970s and the relevance and interest it still holds for many younger artists.

Whether heroically scaled or intimate, Bontecou’s predominantly abstract work has consistently incorporated figurative, organic, and mechanistic references to states of transformation between the natural and the man-made. From her early sculptures—wall-mounted, three-dimensional objects in which geometric fragments of canvas and other materials are stretched over and fastened onto welded metal framework—to the explosive intricacy of her most recent pieces, many of which are suspended in space, Bontecou’s greatest preoccupation as an artist has been to encompass "as much of life as possible—no barriers—no boundaries—all freedom in every sense." 


Born in 1931 in Providence, Rhode Island, and raised in Westchester County, New York, Bontecou attended the Art Students League in New York from 1952 to 1955, followed by a period of residence in Rome. She worked in a vein of abstracted figuration, sculpting animal and bird forms that in their crudeness and vigor anticipated the direction of her subsequent work. Upon her return to New York, Bontecou arrived at the idea of creating lightweight welded frameworks resembling boxes and infilling them with wire mesh, canvas, and muslin to impart a painterly sense of depth and illusion. The resulting objects, while primarily geometric in form, resembled rough-hewn machines with a curiously handmade presence.

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Exhibition Schedule

Following its debut at the Hammer Museum, the exhibition travels to the following venues:

Museum of Contemporary Art
Chicago, IL
February 14 - May 30, 2004

MoMA QNS, The Museum of Modern Art
New York, NY
July 30 - September 27, 2004

The national tour is made possible by The Henry Luce Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, Friedrike Merck, and Sarah-Ann and Werner H. Kramarsky. The accompanying catalogue was made possible, in part, by Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro, and The Ruth and Murray Gribin Foundation.