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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.



Aaron’s September Post

7 Oct

As a graphic design major, Art History affords me references for effective visual communication.  Learning about the climate of circumstances that produced important works of art makes me aware of the ultimate message I want to convey and its consequences.  I am also trained in how other perceptions formulate – though I will be constantly learning how the messenger can shape the way ideas are received.

Being aware of culture and its role in artistic expression expands my scope and strengthens my ability to share vision and influence the world around me.