Lee Bontecou, ‘Untitled’, 1959, Phillips

From the Catalogue:
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)
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: signed and dated "Bontecou 59" on the lower right side edge

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)

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

About Lee Bontecou

One of the most widely recognized female artists of the 1960s, Lee Bontecou creates welded wall reliefs, hanging sculptures, and miniature, mystical drawings that reflect her interest in natural and man-made forms. Brown and black in tone and often with ominous, organic voids at their centers, her large-scale patchwork accumulations of canvas, leather, wire mesh, and muslin recall nests, machines, ancient architecture, and the human body. She constructs her massive, free-hanging forms from constellations of steel, shaped canvas, porcelain curios, and explosive lengths of wire that reach far into space. Through such works, Bontecou has sought to capture “as much of life as possible—no barriers—no boundaries—all freedom in every sense,” she says.

American, b. 1931, Providence, Rhode Island