America Is Hard to See

Solo en Inglès

This audio guide highlights selected works by artists in America Is Hard to See. Curators, scholars, and artists provide additional commentary.

612Lee Bontecou, Untitled 1961, 1961


Lee Bontecou (b. 1931). _Untitled_, 1961, (1961). Welded steel, canvas, wire and rope, 72 1/2 × 66 × 24 3/4in. (184.2 × 167.6 × 62.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase 61.41

NARRATOR: Like most of Lee Bontecou’s work from the 1960s, this object functions as both a sculpture and a painting. To make it, Bontecou stretched canvas salvaged from old conveyor belts over a welded steel frame, fastening the fragments of cloth in place with bits of copper wire. Her first experiments with this technique were boxes, but she soon discovered that she could achieve a greater sense of depth if she hung her constructions on the wall at eye level. In dark, receding insets like the ones you see here, she used black velvet or the soot from her welding torch to create a sense of endless darkness. Some critics saw these openings as mouths or vaginas, but Bontecou insisted that this was not her intention. For her, they represented the darkness and mystery of outer space. 

Bontecou had taken an early interest in space exploration and the ideas it evoked—the unknown, the infinite, and the limits of technology. At the same time, this work also points to something more sinister. The sharp-toothed void in the center of this composition suggests the dark side of human nature: war, violence, cruelty, and fear.