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Artists Lee Bontecou
Lee Bontecou Photo

Lee Bontecou

American Sculptor, Printmaker, and Draftswoman

Movements and Styles: Abstract Expressionism, Neo-Dada, Minimalism

Born: January 15, 1931 - Providence, Rhode Island

Lee Bontecou Timeline

Quotes

"Getting the black...opened everything up. It was like dealing with the outer limits."
Lee Bontecou
"The little pencil is a magic box, ... You can take a piece of paper and walk anywhere."
Lee Bontecou
"She's drawing with metal, she's painting with canvas. One of the things she pioneered was to get sculpture off the ground, to make something that was neither a painting nor a sculpture, but something in between."-
Elizabeth Smith, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
"Bontecou [has made] her work so strong and material that it can only assert itself...It is credible and awesome"
Donald Judd
"Bontecou's work embodies the paradox of the space age, especially in her pairing of the cosmic and the brutal. She speaks passionately of dichotomies and sees her sculpture as divided between optimistic works and angry war pieces, representing the positive and negative sides of science."
Mona Hadler
"War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metalization of the human body..."
Filippo Marinetti

"I just got tired of sculpture as a big thing in the middle of a room. I wanted it to go into space."

Synopsis

The intricately constructed black holes, or voids, in Lee Bontecou's most famous pieces don't seem to belong to any type of art previously produced - painting or sculpture. These voids seem to connect to ulterior dimensions. Her work immediately calls to mind the alien worlds of science fiction and fantasy films and novels. Indeed, her methods, materials, and often vaguely unsettling images, set her apart from her contemporaries in the New York art world. Cited as a major influence by a variety of well-known artists, she nevertheless occupies an ambiguous place in the art history canon. She was difficult to categorize, both when she first emerged as a woman artist in the still largely male dominated New York art scene, and retrospectively. She was neither a Minimalist nor an Abstract Expressionist, although her work shares similarities with art from both movements. Despite being regarded as a Feminist artist, her art was not expressly feminist and, more importantly, she did not consider it as such. One of the most striking qualities of her work is that it struck a tense balance between celebrating technology and lamenting its impact on the natural world.

Key Ideas

Like some of the Dada artists, Bontecou embraced spontaneous mishaps. A major occurrence in her artistic exploration was her discovery of the way in which a torch for welding could produce an easily-controlled spray of the black soot that became a signature material in her work. The serendipitous soot led her to create the black holes (black that is a powerful, deathly void) that are almost ubiquitous in her work.
The tough, industrial exteriors of Bontecou's works function as frames for the void-like interiors. These gaps in the armor of her sculpture's surfaces are suggestive of bodily orifices that are somehow vulnerable and exposed. The concept of oppositions is a persistent theme in Bontecou's oeuvre and, in this case, she emphasizes the tension between the industrial and the organic: the latter, the natural environment, is susceptible to damage or even destruction by the former.
Bontecou was a pioneer in the use of unconventional materials, including scavenging and repurposing objects like metal tubing, saw blades, and miscellaneous scrap hardware. She often juxtaposed the industrial with earthy materials like soot and ragged linen canvas to create the stark contrasts that she transformed into vaguely sinister extraterrestrial landscapes and hybrid human/cyborg body-scapes.

Biography

Lee Bontecou Photo

Childhood and Education

Lee Bontecou was born in Providence, Rhode Island and grew up just outside of New York City in Westchester County. Her father, an engineer, built gliders for the military during the Second World War. Her mother, equally industrious, assembled submarine transmitters at a munitions factory. Exposure to their work fostered in her an early fascination with engineering and the mechanics of industry.

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Lee Bontecou Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Lee Bontecou
Interactive chart with Lee Bontecou's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Richard BellamyRichard Bellamy
Constantin Brâncu?iConstantin Brâncu?i
Alberto GiacomettiAlberto Giacometti
Alexander CalderAlexander Calder

Personal Contacts

Joseph CornellJoseph Cornell

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
MinimalismMinimalism
Feminist ArtFeminist Art

Influences on Artist
Lee Bontecou
Lee Bontecou
Years Worked: 1957 - present
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Eva HesseEva Hesse
Robert MorrisRobert Morris
Donald JuddDonald Judd

Personal Contacts

Dore AshtonDore Ashton
Donald JuddDonald Judd

Movements

MinimalismMinimalism
Feminist ArtFeminist Art

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Whitney Porter

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Debra Thimmesch

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Whitney Porter
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Debra Thimmesch
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