Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds | First Retrospective of Drawings by Pioneering Modernist



Exhibition redefines career of legendary postwar American artist

PRINCETON, NJ—Although most celebrated for her forceful and influential sculptures, Lee Bontecou has employed drawing as a distinct and essential part of her creative practice since the dawn of her 50-year career. She has constantly forged a capacious and profoundly original way of making and seeing, her drawings acting as fantastic spatial reflections on how we understand our place in the world in the face of dramatic scientific and technological advances, environmental decline and geopolitical strife.

Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds, the first museum exhibition devoted to Bontecou’s drawings, presents approximately 45 works on paper loaned from such institutions as the Menil Collection, Museum of Modern Art, and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, as well as from private collections. Spanning the artist’s drawing practice from 1958 to 2012, with images that either directly relate to her wall-mounted relief sculptures or are independent end products, the exhibition provides an entirely new perspective on Bontecou’s career and concerns. Drawn Worlds, which premiered this year at the Menil Collection, will be on view at the Princeton University Art Museum from June 28 through Sept. 21, 2014.

“This long overdue consideration of Lee Bontecou’s drawings is vital for anyone looking to better understand postwar American art,” said Princeton University Art Museum Director James Steward. “Her worldscapes merging 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, and this exhibition affords us the rare opportunity to dive deeply into her exalted and very personal vision.”

Bontecou (born 1931 in Providence, Rhode Island, and raised in New York) is known for her powerful sculptures of fiberglass, cloth and metal stretched over metal armatures. Trained at the Art Students League in New York, followed by a residency in Rome, Bontecou first showed her work at Leo Castelli’s gallery in 1960. Her reliefs were admired by Donald Judd, the minimal artist and iconoclast, among others. After many years of retreat from the art world—living and working in rural Pennsylvania—Bontecou regained significant attention with a major museum retrospective that traveled across the United States in 2003–04. Previous exhibitions of Bontecou’s work have paired drawings with her sculptures, but until now no museum exhibition has focused exclusively on her drawings.

Bontecou’s complex yet accessible work has been consistently defined by the experimental nature of her technique and materials as well as by her surreal, otherworldly imagery. Her highly developed and far-reaching symbolic idiom features mysterious black holes, undulating biomorphic forms and explosive constructed geometries. According to Bontecou, her project as an artist has been to encapsulate “as much of life as possible—no barriers—no boundaries—all freedom in every sense.”

The works on view in Drawn Worlds reveal Bontecou’s use of soot, graphite, charcoal, pencil, ink and pastel, which the artist variously scraped, smeared, smudged or erased. Among other innovative techniques, Bontecou has employed a state-of-the-art welding blowtorch to draw with soot on paper and canvas. Images that register as otherworldly fossilized landscapes contrast with shell-like forms, insects and the symmetrical decorativeness of flower drawings.

Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds is curated by Menil Collection Curator Michelle White under the auspices of the Menil Drawing Institute and is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue featuring essays by White, Dore Ashton and Joan Banach about the artist and her drawing practice. Kelly Baum, Haskell Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, is coordinating the exhibition for Princeton.

Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds is organized by the Menil Collection, Houston, where the exhibition was realized through the generous support of Louisa Stude Sarofim; the Brown Foundation, Inc.; the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation; Marilyn Oshman; Agnes Gund; and the City of Houston. The exhibition at Princeton has been made possible by generous support from the Kathleen C. Sherrerd Program Fund for American Art; the Virginia and Bagley Wright, Class of 1946, Program Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art; and the Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Exhibitions Fund, with additional support from the Rita Allen Foundation.

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About the Princeton University Art Museum

With a collecting history that extends back to the 1750s, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the leading university art museums in the country. From the founding gift of a collection of porcelain and pottery, the collections have grown to over 92,000 works of art that range from ancient to contemporary art and concentrate geographically on the Mediterranean regions, Western Europe, China, the United States, and Latin America.

Committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions, the Art Museum serves as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world. The Museum is intimate in scale yet expansive in scope, offering a respite from the rush of daily life, a revitalizing experience of extraordinary works of art, and an opportunity to delve deeply into the study of art and culture.

The Princeton University Art Museum is located at the heart of the Princeton campus, a short walk from the shops and restaurants of Nassau Street. Admission is free. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays.

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