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Lee Bontecou (b. 1931)
wall relief--painted canvas, wire and welded steel construction
17¼ x 12 x 6 3/8 in. (43.8 x 30.4 x 16.1 cm.)
Executed circa 1958.
Grippi & Waddell, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1965

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

"I had a joy and excitement about outer spece--nothing was known about the black holes--just huge, intangible, dangerous entities, and I felt great excitement when little Sputnik flew"
(L. Bontecou, Lee Bontecou: All Freedom in Every Sense, exh. cat., New York, 2010).

In the late 1950s, Lee Bontecou developed a new way to make drawings, utilizing soot produced by her welding torch, suggesting landscapes or dreamscapes with mysterious undulations and cavities. Bontecou immediately set out to find a sculptural equivalent that would give three dimensional form to these dark, evocative images. She turned toward the box: an open framework of welded steel rods, which she enclosed by affixing pieces of stained canvas to the surface. Almost all of these boxes featured an oval aperture revealing the interior structure. In 1958, the artist produced a number of these boxes, most small in scale and quite simple in design--a box, an opening and a darkness inside.

Unlike the sculptures that preceded it, the present example, acquired from one of the artist's first dealers in 1959, features a highly active frontal surface; arcs and bands of steel rods, connected by panels of rugged, muted toned canvas strips. Here, the syntax that became Bontecou's unique language and form is articulated for the first time, resembling, among other things, an aerial view of an otherworldly landscape. Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, had recently orbited the earth, launching the Space Age.

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