Lee Bontecou - 20th c. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Thursday, July 2, 2020 | Phillips

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  • In Short

    “You can travel miles within a drawing and not have to take all the baggage along… I can’t stress drawing enough… You can work from your inner world rather than always the external world”
      – Lee Bontecou 

    Alongside Lee Bontecou's renowned, foreboding sculptures, the artist's small-scale drawings and paintings occupy a special place within  her practice. Recently the focus of a traveling retrospective organized by the Menil Collection, Houston, these works, as James Steward noted, combine “elemental organic forms with machine-age aesthetics truly embody the artist’s anxiety, awe and ambivalence about contemporary life. As a body of work they are among the greatest, most singular artistic achievements of the past 50 years” (James Steward, “Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds | First Retrospective of Drawings by Pioneering Modernist”, press release, Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, May 12, 2014, online).

    Bontecou created Untitled after she left New York for rural Pennsylvania. A notable example of Bontecou’s 1980s paintings on panel, this work exemplifies a critical turning point in the artist’s practice. In the decades prior, Bontecou's so-called “worldscapes” drawings composed of graphite and soot were largely inspired, or thought to inform, the artist’s own sculptural practice. In the later part of the century, intimate two-dimensional works like the present one became instead more rooted in the tradition of landscape painting, resulting in standalone masterworks like Untitled.

  • Imagined Landscapes

    Rendered in dynamic and impressionistic strokes, Untitled, 1982, offers a glimpse into these imaginative landscapes. In the present work, Bontecou used water-soluble casein paint atop wood panel. Varying in thickness, the resulting strokes draw the viewer into what looks like a moonlit-seascape, not unlike the voids which characterize her large-scale sculptures. While not entirely representational, the apparent tactility of the composition creates a world that we can almost, but not quite, imagine. Inspired in part by summers spent in Nova Scotia at her grandmother’s home, Bontecou’s wavelike forms feel at once familiar and eerily mysterious.

  • An Ode to Vincent van Gogh

    Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, Saint Rémy, June 1889. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

    Perhaps the most direct visual comparison one can make when looking at works like Untitled is to Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night from a century earlier. Short, concentric strokes below a moon emanating beams of light in the upper center recall the swirling blue sky outside of the post-Impressionist painter’s window in Saint Rémy. And yet, while a long-time admirer of van Gogh’s works, particularly his drawings, Bontecou’s own practice pushes the representation of real world views to “a hallucinatory extreme” (Mona Hadler, “Lee Bontecou and Drawing: From the Real to the Strange”, Woman’s Art Journal, Spring/Summer 2014, online, p. 23). Just as the sculptural black holes made of steel and mesh inspire awe in their viewers, works like Untitled possess the same power, remarkably through a paradoxically intimate, two-dimensional surface. 

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, New York (acquired directly from the artist)



signed and dated "BONTECOU 1982" lower right
casein on wood panel
7 1/4 x 9 1/4 in. (18.4 x 23.5 cm)
Painted in 1982.

Full Cataloguing

$60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for $105,000

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th c. & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 2 July 2020