Aaron Brown’s Art Pick from Modern Wing at Art Institute of Chicago

31 Oct

“Untitled” by Lee Bontecou; 1960

Exploring the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago , I come upon a piece that intrigues me the most for this narrative.  It is very organic in form, yet quite industrial and geometric, like a skewed, three-dimensional computer modeling grid.  It has a Sixties-inspired, Mod and futuristic feel that has always attracted my nostalgic tastes.  At the same time, it has a decaying quality, like lean skin pulling tightly over bones, or even a Cubist interpretation of crow’s feet around an eye socket.  It has lots of visual appeal with texture, detail and an enigmatic quality that stirs my imagination.

The first thing I notice is the deep, dark hole − a portal to who-knows-where.  This would be enough to peak anyone’s curiosity, as I try peering inside, conscious of keeping a museum-appropriate distance.  The depth appears to go back further than the limits of the physical wall.  The focal point is not dead-center, but situated toward the top half of the square frame.  This sets the stage for a dramatic composition.

A network of converging and concentric lines surrounds the dark hole. The welded ironwork tapers out from the wall while supporting a mosaic of canvas panels.  The circular grid resembles shattered glass, with shards radiating from a “bullet hole,” creating three-dimensional action that ejects from the piece toward me.  This I recall from studying Renaissance and Baroque art, the notion of engaging the viewing audience and space outside the work as part of the experience.  In fact, a brow-like projection jutting from the shallow, domed surface hovers over the composition’s “eye” that is symbolically staring back at me.

The canvas panels are fitted between the outlined spaces, affixed to the structure with exposed copper wire “twisties.”  Most of the elements used to construct this wall sculpture appear untreated, save the cutting and welding required for assembly.  The canvas is worn in a few spots and stained in varying earth-tone shades, probably from use over time, suggesting a recycled material source.  The raw nature of the construction is continued through bits of industrial print strategically left visible on some of the swatches, similar to what you might see on an old bank bag or grain sack. A few pre-existing grommets are randomly dispersed as embellishment, but most likely were original and functional fittings from the source of the materials used.

The overall color combination of “black and tan” is like a nice “Guinness and Harps.”  With such a “masculine” palette, I was surprised to discover that this piece was made by a woman in 1960. The artist placard (purposely placed down the wall and away from the piece) reveals that the artist, Lee Bontecou, was one of a few women creating such work during this male-dominated time of Modern Art.  Lee was trained in welding but it seems she was trained outside of the U.S.  I don’t know if this was a necessity or a choice.  I am lead to further speculate the origin of the androgynous first name.  Was this an adopted pseudonym to aid in obscuring the sex of the artist?  Was this just an ambiguous, advantageous asset that could be used at the artist’s discretion?  Or could it just be a coincidence?

The placard further reveals that the source of the canvas is recycled conveyor belts from a laundry facility.  Another discovery is that the inside hollow is lined in black velvet.  This explains the deep darkness that doesn’t reflect any light, such as a glossy surface might.  The velvet texture and color absorb light like a black hole.  This causes the piece to occupy infinite space beyond the boundaries of the frame: outward protrusion countered with an infinite depth.



5 Responses to “Aaron Brown’s Art Pick from Modern Wing at Art Institute of Chicago”

  1. cqtippett October 31, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    Ace Group- Cedric Tippett
    Aaron the piece that you decided to do your paper on is by far the most abstract piece i have seen done. It is very visually appealing and catches your eye right away. First glance your just like “really what is this”. So that definitely attracts people to look at the piece and just make many assumptions on what they think it is. Personally it looks like a giant eyeball to me but I’m sure others think something totally different than I do. What I like about your paper was the in-depth analysis on the overall composition of the piece. You did a good job at really just looking at it and observing it. I agree the black and white canvas does a good job at getting the pictures focus across. Very abstract piece that i enjoy good job.

    • noble9 November 4, 2010 at 8:06 pm #

      I saw while i was strolling the museum, it grab the life out of my eyes and left me staring for what felt like minutes. Its was actually only 40 seconds.~Jermaine Lee

  2. mondaymorningkings November 6, 2010 at 10:49 pm #

    I really loved this piece as well. As you’ve said it’s a fabulous combination of industrial and organic elements. With the one dark hole it’s so mysterious and interesting. From what you discovered it sounds like the creator has some mystery in her background as well. Great choice.

    Zachary Michael

  3. kedling November 7, 2010 at 10:21 pm #

    Really loving the piece you chose to write about. Wishing that I would have had the time that day to explore the modern wing of the art institute for a while. Definitely something I would like to see in person! Nice job.
    -Kelsie Edling

  4. lmcapoccitti November 11, 2010 at 6:25 pm #

    I love this one! when I was there with my friend it was the first thing to surprise me art-wise in a really long time and I was so entranced by it! definitely one of my favorites.

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