The images of Lee Bontecou (American, born 1931) are unmistakably hers: black voids, cosmic orbs, floating serrated teeth, mutant flowers, and strange, hybrid forms. They reflect a post–World War II angst and existential fear brought on by the arms race and nuclear threat, coupled with awe at a technology capable of space travel. While best known for her wall reliefs that bridge the divide between painting and sculpture, Bontecou produced a series of important prints between 1962 and 1982 at Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE), a workshop founded by Tatyana Grosman in West Islip, New York, in 1957. This exhibition is the first show devoted to Bontecou’s prints since 1975 and is drawn from the Art Institute’s complete edition and significant archive of her ULAE production.
In Bontecou’s prints, as in her early sculptures, the color black dominates. “Getting the black,” she said, “opened everything up.” The color, through its endless interpretability, evokes the mystery of the infinite and the terror of the unknown. Her powerful prints—mostly lithographs but some etchings—attend to all of the profound issues Bontecou addressed in her sculptures and drawings. In particular, many of the prints she produced at ULAE explore the black void at the heart of her early sculptures, a motif that runs through her entire career.
Into the Void: Prints of Lee Bontecou analyzes for the first time the totality of her prints as a reflection and an extension of her larger corpus, showing not only final states of her prints but also working proofs, variant states, finished and preparatory drawings, matrices (such as the copper etching plates used to print her works), and other ephemera that shed further light on her practice. Including over 100 objects, the exhibition explores the phenomena of process, repetition, and artistic obsession, and traces Bontecou’s voyage through a series of experiments and happy accidents toward the mystique of her final, definitive images.