Shout Magazine

Mark Kostabi on Lee Bontecou

After performing an informal Saturday night surprise outdoor piano concert in front of my permanently installed bronze public sculpture here in the center of San Benedetto del Tronto called “To See Through is not to See Into,” I am thinking constantly about Lee Bontecou, whose work from 1958 to 1972 is currently visible at the Leo Castelli Gallery through November 24.

After I decided to write about Bontecou for Shout, I asked my assistant Heidi to research her on the Internet and fax me some articles. Heidi told me that she tried several different search engines but found nothing. So I asked her to call the usually reliable Hacker and Ursus art bookstores. Both bookstores said that, although they were familiar with the artist, no books about her existed—only catalogs and they were extremely rare.

So I decided to write about the fact—one which I had heard before, many times—that little is known about Lee Bontecou. She is famous for being underrated. But she should be famous for her incredibly original, moving and mysterious paintings (wall sculptures? constructions?) that simultaneously evoke industrial construction and biological seduction. Vaguely reminiscent of handcrafted airplane parts, her large burlap and wire constructed protruding objects usually include a dark central orifice which could symbolize a vagina, the void or a dormant exhaust pipe from some strange other universe.

Her work is as fresh today as it ever was. Young artists (myself included) could learn a thing or two about craft, soul and sheer artistic power from seeing this much overdue historical show of one of the best artists of the 20th Century. One can also always see a powerful work of Bontecou at Lincoln Center in the lobby of The New York State Theater, along with other masterpieces by some of her contemporaries like Jasper Johns.

Also of interest this month: While in Chelsea, walk by the corner of 24th Street and Eleventh Avenue and witness construction of the new Larry Gagosian Gallery which at 21,000 square feet promises to become New York’s largest privately owned art gallery. Hitherto, Doug Christmas holds the record at 20,000 square feet with his Ace Gallery on Hudson Street. Who said the eighties are over?

November 1999