Lot 6
  • 6

Lee Bontecou

200,000 - 300,000 USD
194,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Lee Bontecou
  • Untitled
  • signed
  • canvas, copper wire and welded steel


Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Henry W. Klein, Harrison, New York (acquired from the above in 1960)
By descent to the present owner in 1969


New York, Leo Castelli, Summary 1959-1960, May - June 1960
New York, M. Knoedler & Company, Inc., Lawyers Collect, January 1965, No 7

Catalogue Note

This work is one of the seminal early canvas-and-wire constructions which Lee Bontecou was working on during the winter of 1959/60 when she was discovered by Ivan Karp, then scouting talent for Leo Castelli, in her studio loft in New York's Lower East Side.  Castelli included it in his stable exhibition Summary: 1959-1960, May - June 1960, at which it was purchased by the father of the present owner.

Karp recounts how he found it hard to reconcile the powerful nature of "these tent-like structures with their fierce apertures" with the "fragile creature, with a very delicate face" who created them.  Indeed, this disquieting reaction was felt by many in the male-dominated art world at the beginning of the Kennedy years, an era of alternating optimism and pessimism.  Interpretations of her constructions usually acknowledged some associations with machines, but they inevitably focused on the black hole on which all these works are centered, which was interpreted as a menacing allusion to female sexuality.  In his review of the 2004 retrospective at MoMA Queens, Arthur C. Danto compares them to "tribal masks, they convey an air of menace and mystery' but later asserts that 'the image extends from something as social as war to something as private as sex, making one an aspect of the other." 

The artist had her own, neat analysis, in her Statement at the beginning of the catalogue for the 2004 MoMA Queens exhibition:

Since my early years until now, the natural world and its visual wonders and horrors – man-made devices with their mind-boggling engineering feats and destructive abominations, elusive human nature and its multiple ramifications from the sublime to unbelievable abhorrences – to me are all one.

Reviewing the current Bontecou exhibition at MoMA, Karen Rosenberg marvels at the "rough materials and polished workmanship, the talismanic powers," and "Bontecou's anxiety-inducing voids" (Karen Rosenberg, "Galaxies of Wire, Canvas and Velvety Soot," The New York Times, August 13, 2010, p. C22).

In fact, the sheer power of Bontecou's tent-like constructions was apparent from the moment her first works were delivered to the Leo Castelli Gallery. As Ivan Karp recalled "...they really were transformed in that setting. They were capable of being seen. They had their clarity and they had their object power" (Ivan Karp quoted in Annie Cohen-Solal, Leo & His Circle: The Life of Leo Castelli, New York, 2010, p.  261).