Lee Bontecou

Untitled, 1961

Not on view



Welded steel, canvas, wire and rope

Overall: 72 1/2 × 66 × 24 3/4in. (184.2 × 167.6 × 62.9 cm)

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© Lee Bontecou; Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, N.Y.

Between 1959 and the mid-1960s, Lee Bontecou made large-scale, metal-and-canvas wall reliefs. These hybrids of painting and sculpture were created by welding a metal armature and then using suture-like stitches to attach fragments of canvas with copper wire. Bontecou scavenged most of the canvas from bags and conveyor belts discarded by the laundry below her New York studio. She also included other found objects, such as grommets, saw blades, and rope. These objects are configured into a complex assemblage that hangs on the wall like a painting but projects more than two feet into the room. The visual allusions generated by this configuration range from destructive man-made devices to organic and geological structures: riveted airplane engines, celestial black holes, gun barrels, volcanoes, human orifices, and the segmented shells of insects. Bontecou has said that her art responds to the historical moment in which it was created: “I wish my work to represent or to be a part of my time. . .I want them to be things and facts inside us—from war to the wonders of the space age.”  


  • America Is Hard to See

    Lee Bontecou, Untitled 1961, 1961

    Lee Bontecou, Untitled 1961, 1961


    Narrator: Like most of Lee Bontecou’s work from the 1960s, this object functions as both a sculpture and a painting. To make it, Bontecou stretched canvas salvaged from old conveyor belts over a welded steel frame, fastening the fragments of cloth in place with bits of copper wire. Her first experiments with this technique were boxes, but she soon discovered that she could achieve a greater sense of depth if she hung her constructions on the wall at eye level. In dark, receding insets like the ones you see here, she used black velvet or the soot from her welding torch to create a sense of endless darkness. Some critics saw these openings as mouths or vaginas, but Bontecou insisted that this was not her intention. For her, they represented the darkness and mystery of outer space. 

    Bontecou had taken an early interest in space exploration and the ideas it evoked—the unknown, the infinite, and the limits of technology. At the same time, this work also points to something more sinister. The sharp-toothed void in the center of this composition suggests the dark side of human nature: war, violence, cruelty, and fear.

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