Lee Bontecou was born in 1931 in Providence, United States. She draws using soot and began depicting empty circular areas that became a hallmark of her aesthetic. She exhibited for the first time at the Leo Castelli gallery in 1960. The exhibition marked the beginning of the international recognition of her work, which was still rare for women artists in the 1960s. She developed an art practice that is sometimes considered feminist, post-minimalist or related to late surrealism, but in fact defies all classification. Her aim is to “glimpse some of the fear, hope, ugliness, beauty, and mystery that exist in us all.” In the mid-1970s, she withdrew from the art world and only rarely exhibited her work thereafter. She was rediscovered by a new generation of artists in the 1990s. Lee Bontecou belongs to a generation of female sculptors, such as Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, Yayoi Kusama or Alina Szapocznikow, who give form to an idea of the organic body.
Lee Bontecou is known for her sewn and welded mural sculptures created using various industrial materials such as copper, iron, or epoxy, as well as more organic substances such as fossils, bones, canvas or found objects and army surplus equipment that she found in second-hand shops in New York. Her monumental aerodynamic, violent, hollowed-out, pierced or metallic constructions seem to be marked by the memory of the Second World War, when Bontecou’s mother worked in the factories producing submarines. The artist was also deeply aware of the reverberations of the Vietnam war. Her works, with their strong sculptural presence, are both organic and mechanical, they evoke the body and the machine, the abstract and the figurative, and draw on the iconography of the Cold War as well as on the Cubist artists. Some art critics interpret her works as allusions to the female anatomy, but Lee Bontecou seeks above all to defy convention both in her choice of materials and in the way she presents her works, which she described, in her own words as “as much of life as possible—no barriers—no boundaries—all freedom in every sense.”