Bontecou, Lee

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Bontecou, Lee

Lee Bontecou (bŏn´təkōō), 1931–, American artist, b. Providence, R.I. Bontecou is best known for the abstract sculptures she created from 1959–1967, three-dimensional wall reliefs made of weathered canvas stretched over steel wire armatures. Their large, thrusting, roughly concentric shapes converge in one or more yawning and seemingly endless black holes, giving many a menacing quality. The largest piece in this style is a lobby relief at Lincoln Center's New York State Theatre. During this period she also produced a number of powerful drawings, often executed in velvety black soot on paper. In 1971, Bontecou had her last 20th-century show in New York and largely vanished from the city art scene. Living mostly in rural Pennsylvania and teaching art (1971–91) at Brooklyn College, she created vacuum-formed plastic fish and flowers in the 1970s and began working in a new style in 1980. Her latest constructions, some of them mobiles, are forceful yet delicate and range from inches to several feet in size. Made of steel wire and mesh with elements of metal and porcelain and containing flashes of subtle color, many include references to animal parts (beaks, eyes, fins) within an abstract framework. These pieces were not seen by the public until many appeared, along with earlier works, in a 2003–04 retrospective organized by Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art.

See E. Smith and R. Storr, Lee Bontecou: A Retrospective of Sculpture and Drawing, 1958–2000 (2003).

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