Since her first exhibitions at New York’s Leo Castelli Gallery in 1960 and 1962, the work of the American artist Lee Bontecou (b. 1931) has occupied an entirely individual place in contemporary art. Its importance was immediately recognized and was widely exhibited through the 1970s and 1980s. A major touring retrospective of her work was presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, with a concluding presentation at The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2003-2004. Significant works however, many from her years in Europe in the late 1950s, have never been exhibited outside the studio. However, for the first time, Bontecou has collaborated with the Gemeentemuseum on a unique exhibition of work from every stage of her career, including many drawings and sculptures never previously exhibited. In addition a new, installation, a ‘Sandbox’, has been created especially for inclusion in the exhibition.
In 2010 the Gemeentemuseum acquired Lee Bontecou’s bas-relief sculpture, Untitled (1960). The purchase sparked a desire to show this important work in the context of Bontecou’s rich and varied oeuvre. Although all stages of Bontecou’s artistic development are represented in the new exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum, the focus is not a chronological overview. Rather, it is centered on the coherent interconnections between works from different periods and in different media. Drawings made during Bontecou’s years in Greece and Italy in the late 1950s - never previously exhibited - are shown in relation to an imposing suspended sculpture from the 1980s. A reconstruction of a wall of drawings in her studio illustrates the vital role played by drawings in her artistic practice, both in their own right and as they relate to her sculptures.
The new Sandbox created for the exhibition together with Bontecou’s artist friend Joan Banach is her largest in this format and her most recent work. It features a compilation of Bontecou’s sculptural objects spanning the period from the early 1960s to the present. The installation underlines not only the coherence between the different parts of her oeuvre and works in different media, but the relationship between her work and the natural world. The objects that are positioned on and suspended over its white sand represent the array of material and technique in which Bontecou has worked: clay, porcelain, vacuum-formed plastic, wire, steel and wood. The found objects accompanying them – stones, dried botanical specimens, fossils and fragments of bone – reveal the organic sources of Bontecou’s creations.
However abstract it may be, Bontecou’s work invariably evokes associations to the natural world. Her oeuvre is well-suited to the Gemeentemuseum and its collection. The edifice designed by Dutch architect H.P. Berlage is regarded as one of the earliest truly modern museum buildings in the world. The daylighting and human scale of the exhibition areas create a sense of intimacy that suits the proportions, details, and textures of Bontecou’s work. The skylight over the Sandbox will allow for cast illumination to create shadows and a constantly changing impression of the composition.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated book with contributions by Joan Banach, Jeremy Melius (Tufts University) and Laura Stamps. (Dutch-language version: Hannibal; English-language version: Walther König, €24.95).