I’ve been a HUGE fan of Lee Bontecou for years and I know her work primarily as huge reliefs and/or hanging mobiles, spinning in time and space … amazing work! However, I did not know her for printmaking and seeing the exhibition of her work, Into The Void, at the Art Institute of Chicago, really impressed me. The prints that are shown were done between 1962-1982 and Bontecou did several series under the headline, ‘Stone’; for interest, there is work from her Fourth, Fifth and Six Stone series. Bontecou created the works at Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE), a workshop founded by Tatyana Grosman in West Islip, New York, in 1957. If you’re familiar with Bontecou’s work, you know that there is a cosmic, deep space, apocalyptic vibe to it … it is definitely non-representational work. Into The Void does show many circular and oblong compositions and the pictorial space is heavily dominated with black and the darkness. I felt like I was looking into future - there’s a weird kind of foretelling of the coming times and it’s dismal and cold. And I feel that all that would be left, would be space and the darkness of the universe … that we literally would be all stardust at the end, collectively speaking.
I was really struck by the work, ‘Untitled’, 1963, because the black that she uses is so incredibly velvety and densely dark … I got as close as I could to figure out what medium she used. I was thunderstruck when I read the AIC placard:
”Experimenting with the color black “was like dealing with the outer limits,” Bontecou said. Early in her career, the artist began using soot for her drawing. She discovered that by turning off the oxygen on the welding torch, she could cover her surface (paper of cloth) with a layer of velvety black soot, which she could then manipulate with her fingers of a razor blade.”
How clever was that?! She used SOOT and she was so resourceful; and tried her best to learn the craft of printmaking. Reading the descriptions from many of the prints, one discovers that she was ok with showing her ‘mistakes’ as a novice; and some of the prints were just experiments in exploring the process and the medium. I mean, you gotta start somewhere! I guess everyone is a rookie when you start anything new - doesn’t matter how skillful you are! The Art Institute of Chicago, as usual, does an awesome job laying out the exhibition and they include some of the copper plates and cardboard stencils she used in many of the multiple ‘Stone’ series. The space offers a quiet and intimate look at the work … I did two loops around the exhibition, as I found it SO fascinating and I didn’t want to miss anything.
I highly recommend a visit to the AIC to see the show. Th exhibition is conveniently located near the main Michigan Avenue entrance in Galleries 124-127, just beyond the double doors leading to the first floor Asian sections, on the left hand side. The show will be up until May 4, 2019. Don’t miss it!