Lee Bontecou - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session New York Wednesday, November 15, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Grinnell Family, New York
    Alexander Grinnell, New York (acquired from the above thence by descent)
    Knoedler & Company, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Madrid, Círculo de Bellas Artes; Salamanca, Domus Artium 2002; A Coruña, Kiosco Alfonso; New York, QCC Art Gallery, Queensborough Community College Art Gallery, An American Odyssey, 1950-1980, April 13, 2004 - January 15, 2005. pp. 196-197 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    One of the first artists to employ a three-dimensional format that defies the categorizations of both painting and sculpture, Lee Bontecou is renowned for her success as a female artist in a period of male-dominated minimalism. Beginning in the late 1950s during her studies in Rome, and having won a Fulbright scholarship in 1956, Bontecou was inspired by the architectural structures of the ancient city. Her first sculptures were made during this time period, composed of terracotta over welded metal supports. The present lot belongs to the year that the artist returned to New York in 1959 and received recognition in the post-war minimalist sphere, when there was a pivotal shift in her sculptural practice. Having discovered the use of a blowtorch, Bontecou began creating lightweight, welded metal frameworks, which she subsequently filled with wire mesh, canvas and muslin. Untitled is one of the most recognizable and renowned examples from the very beginning of this important transition for Bontecou.

    The circular opening in the present lot is a motif which began to recur in these early sculptural works, which is accompanied by a second crescent-shaped opening right above it. A continuous metal rod connects these two shapes like a vein, extending to the bottom of the welded frame. These shapes project from the surface of the canvas, creating an elusive sense of depth that challenges the notion of abstraction defined by her predecessors like de Kooning and Pollock, while simultaneously recalling a sort of cosmic mystery in its resemblance to black holes.

    It was just one year after the creation of the present lot when the artist had her first solo exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery, after which the artist began to receive public acclaim almost immediately. An early champion of her work, Donald Judd, wrote extensively about Bontecou’s work in his 1965 essay Specific Objects, calling her work “explicit and powerful”. Describing Bontecou’s intimately-scaled works such as the present lot, Judd said, “The scale and the economy are integral to the explicit, minatory power of Bontecou's reliefs. The scale, even considered separately and even more so as it occurs with other aspects of the reliefs , is pragmatic, immediate and exclusive. ... the work asserts its own existence, form and power. It becomes an object in its own right." (Donald Judd, “Lee Bontecou”, reproduced in Lee Bontecou: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 2003, p. 196)



signed and dated "Bontecou 59" on the lower right side edge
welded iron, canvas, muslin, wire and velvet
8 x 4 3/4 x 2 1/8 in. (20.3 x 12.1 x 5.4 cm.)
Executed in 1959.

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $187,500

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York Auction 15 November 2017