From the Collection: 1960–1969

Lee Bontecou. Untitled. 1961 423

Welded steel, canvas, fabric, rawhide, copper wire, and soot, 6' 8 1/4" x 7' 5" x 34 3/4" (203.6 x 226 x 88 cm). Kay Sage Tanguy Fund. © 2019 Lee Bontecou

Director, Glenn Lowry: In 1961, Lee Bontecou made this sculpture in her studio in Manhattan’s East Village. She welded an intricate steel armature, then fastened pieces of salvaged canvas, tarp, and rawhide to it. Here’s the artist speaking at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1988:

Artist, Lee Bontecou: I used to live over a laundry. And the old conveyor belts he just threw away and I was just really lucky. Nice heavy canvas and that had some good, good old fashioned grease and the right color, and I used to take them and cut the pieces of canvas and stretched them in there with wire.

Glenn Lowry: While Bontecou’s wall reliefs bring to mind a wide range of associations, the dominant black void in this work strikes an ominous tone. Bontecou has acknowledged her memories of World War II and conflicts of the 1960s as important catalysts for this body of work.

Lee Bontecou: At this time, most of the work was of a hopeful nature, the hopeful meaning from outer space. But slowly at that time, it was in the 60s, and also I became really angry. I used to listen to the UN a lot and get things about making bomb shelters all ready and, the Civil Rights movement that was going along.

Glenn Lowry: Like virtually all of Bontecou’s works, this piece is untitled. The artist has resisted using titles since early in her career.

Lee Bontecou: At first I thought I should probably name them to make it easier for everybody to know which piece we’re talking about. But then, I started to do it and I couldn’t do it. For myself as well as for the viewer. And I just thought that it’s nicer to let them come up with things that hit them with it and then it's completely different for the next person. That's how I feel when I work, there’s just everything out there that hits everybody in a different way.

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