Monday, August 23, 2004

Go See Lee! 

K and I had a fabulous weekend. One of the highlights was a trip out to MOMA QNS to see the Lee Bontecou and Tall Buildings exhibits.

There was a terrific New Yorker article about Lee Bontecou a few months ago by Calvin Tomkins called "Missing in Action" which told the story of how Bontecou made a splash in the 60's with work that blended sculpture and painting in astonishing ways and sometimes frightening ways, she then "disappeared" from the art scene. Of course, disappearing from the perspective of the art world meant that she stopped showing and didn't do interviews. But Bontecou continued to teach at Brooklyn College (how hard to find could she have been?) and to create at her homestead in Pennsylvania.

An illness made her realize that she didn't want to burden her family with 30 years of undisplayed work. Her health combined with the persistence of an LA curator pushed Bontecou to agree to a retrospective. And thank goodness she did.

The early work reminded me in some ways of H.R. Giger and Moebius, although much more organic and far less literal. Bontecou's 60's pieces enter you and affect you in a wordless, visceral way. Some of them she refers to in interviews as "old enemies" and you can feel in your bones why she might say that. Some of them feel like altar pieces for ancient, bloodthirsty gods. Again, this is not a literal image. You're looking at painted canvas and wire and occasionally a zipper or a snap on the canvas.

As the years go by, Bontecou plays with different media. There are lots of sketches in between that give a sense of what she's working towards in each era. I don't want to give away the whole show, so I'll simply skip to the end and say that by the end, she's working in sculptural mobiles and the mood has turned to hope and an an awareness of the fragility of beauty and of grace. K was so moved by a simple drawing from this era that she cried on the spot. (Listen to another stunned person in this Studio360 clip.)

None of these images do the creativity of Lee Bontecou justice. The work must be experienced. Go.
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