Lee Bontecou, American, born 1931: Untitled, 1963. Graphite and soot on circular-shaped stretched muslin. Museum purchase, Laura P. Hall Memorial Fund (x1964-39). © 1963, Lee Bontecou / photo Bruce M. White

Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds is the first retrospective exhibition of the drawings of American artist Lee Bontecou (born 1931). The exhibition spans more than five decades of Bontecou’s career, from the innovative works on paper created in the late 1950s with a welding torch and soot as drawing tool and medium to the work that is ongoing in her Pennsylvania studio. Like her sculptures, which are made primarily of welded steel, canvas, porcelain, and vacuum-formed plastic, her drawings highlight the ingenuity and bravura of her experiments with materials and with ways of creating and making spatial form.

The 1950s and ’60s were decades of enormous contrasts: the exploration of space took place in the shadow of the Holocaust, and concerns about our natural habitat as a place to be conserved and kept hospitable were joined by rising anxieties about the repercussions of technological and scientific progress and the Cold War. Responding to these circumstances, Bontecou’s drawings study and reflect the human-made and natural environments as twin perceptual frameworks. She variously draws, sketches, pencils, soots, inks, brushes, and colors the diverse features of her imagery: vestiges and semblances of airplanes, sails, teeth, eyes, guns, black holes, and prison bars take their place alongside seashells, birds, insects, flowers, ocean waves, landscapes, and the horizon. Mixing menace, oddity, and marvel, Bontecou’s drawings are uniquely free, inviting meditation on the idea that our present must be continually reimagined and respectfully re-created in response to the perils, advances, and impossibilities of the contemporary moment.

Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds is organized by the Menil Collection, Houston.  At the Menil Collection, this 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 Louisa Stude Sarofim; The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston; 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. Additional support has been provided by the Rita Allen Foundation, and by the Partners and Friends of the Princeton University Art Museum.