Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds
Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds is the first retrospective exhibition of the drawings of American artist Lee Bontecou. Born in 1931, the works selected span more than five decades of Bontecou’s career, from the late 1950s, when she began her innovative works on paper with welding torch and soot as a drawing tool and medium while studying in Rome as a Fulbright Scholar, to the work that is ongoing in her Pennsylvania studio. Like her sculptures, which are made primarily of welded steel, canvas, porcelain, and vacuum-formed plastic, her drawings highlight the ingenuity and bravura of her experiments with materials and ways of creating and making spatial form.
For the post-World War II generation, the 1950s and 1960s were decades of enormous contrasts. The exploration of space took place in the shadow of the Holocaust and the massive destructive consequences of the war to humanity and the environment. Concerns about our natural habitat as a place to be restored, conserved and kept hospitable were joined by rising anxieties about the repercussions of technological and scientific progress and the Cold War.
Responding to these circumstances, Bontecou’s drawings study, and reflect the human-made and natural environment as twin perceptual frameworks. She variously draws, sketches, pencils, soots, inks, brushes, and colors the diverse features of her imagery: vestiges and semblances of airplanes, sails, teeth, eyes, guns, black holes, prison bars, take their place alongside seashells, birds, insects, flowers, ocean waves, landscapes, and the horizon. Mixing menace, oddity, and marvel, Bontecou’s drawings are uniquely free, inviting meditation on how our present must be continually reimagined, and respectfully re-created in response to the perils, advances and impossibilities of the contemporary moment.
The Menil Collection is delighted to introduce and document a group of drawings and a first sketchbook from the late 1950s in this exhibition, which have never before been exhibited, and were chosen by the artist for this special occasion. Bontecou has additionally selected an important recent sculpture to accompany the works on paper to further illustrate the inseparable connection between drawing and sculpture in her oeuvre.
Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds, is curated by Michelle White for The Menil Collection, and will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with new scholarly texts. The exhibition will travel to The Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, New Jersey, in late spring of 2014.
Image: Lee Bontecou, Untitled, 1985. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection Gift. © 2013 Lee Bontecou / Digital image © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY.
Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938
To delve deeper into the mystery of Magritte, dive into the exhibition's own website: themysteryoftheordinary.org
At once strangely familiar and deeply mysterious, iconic in impact yet elusive in meaning and technique, the haunting body of work that René Magritte (1898−1967) created during the years leading up to the Second World War is the subject of the new exhibition Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938. Opening at the Menil on February 14, the exhibition is the first to focus exclusively on those breakthrough years, presenting approximately eighty paintings, collages, and objects, along with a selection of photographs, periodicals, and early commercial work.
Organized jointly by the Menil Collection, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Modern Art (where the exhibition opened in September), Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938 incorporates a wealth of material from the important holdings of all three museums, as well as significant loans from other public and private collections in the U.S. and abroad. The exhibition provides a rare opportunity to see original paintings, often complex and challenging in their execution, that have become known primarily through reproduction, while gathering the full range of materials needed to trace Magritte’s development during years that were crucial both for him and for the course of modern art. By uniting works such as the three toiles découpées of 1930—which have not been seen together since 1931—the exhibition makes a vivid case for the seminal position of Magritte as both a modern painter and as a Surrealist artist, two identities that could be at odds with one another, the image overshadowing its making and its maker.
Stated Josef Helfenstein, director of the Menil, which holds the largest and most significant collection of works by Magritte outside of his native Belgium and has published the artist’s seven-volume catalogue raisonne: “Magritte is as special an artist to the Menil as the Menil was to the artist, and we take special pride in presenting this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition, symposium, and gathering of the artist’s late work. It is precisely because we have such close ties to Magritte that we appreciate the collective scholarly effort that has resulted in discoveries that change what we thought we knew about his art, just as surely as his art itself unsettles what we think we know about the world.”
Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary begins in 1926, when Magritte first formed the intention of creating paintings that would, in the artist’s words, make “everyday objects shriek aloud.” It then follows the artist through his Surrealist sojourn in Paris and back to Belgium, concluding in 1938, just before the outbreak of World War II. This was the most inventive and experimental period in Magritte’s prolific career, when the artist developed innovative tactics including displacement, doubling, metamorphosis, juxtapositions, the “misnaming” of objects, and the capturing of visions. Magritte’s is a world that defies gravity, conflates waking and dream states, and honors the mystery of the ordinary.
On the occasion of the exhibition Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary 1926-1938, the Menil Collection will have extended hours on select days for the full fifteen weeks of the exhibition, which is on view from February 14, 2014, through June 1, 2014. The museum will be open to the general public on Fridays from 11:00 am until 9:00 pm. In addition, Member Mornings will occur every Saturday when the entire museum opens an hour early exclusively for members, from 10:00 am until 11:00 am. The Menil Bookstore will also be open to the public until 9:00 pm on Fridays and from 10:00 am-11:00 am for members on Saturdays. For more information, please visit the exhibition microsite at mysteryoftheordinary.com.
Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 is accompanied by a catalogue of the same title published by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and edited by Anne Umland. The 256-page book, which has 194 color images and 58 black-and-white illustrations, features essays by Stephanie D’Alessandro, Michel Draguet and Claude Goormans, Josef Helfenstein with Clare Elliott and Anne Umland, as well as a chronology compiled by Danielle M. Johnson.
Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 is organized for the Menil Collection by Josef Helfenstein with Assistant Curator Clare Elliott; for The Museum of Modern Art by Anne Umland, the Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Curator of Painting and Sculpture, with Curatorial Assistant Danielle Johnson; and for the Art Institute of Chicago by Stephanie D’Alessandro, the Gary C. and Frances Comer Curator of Modern Art. After its presentation at the Menil,Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 will be on view at the Art Institute of Chicago from June 29 through October 12, 2014.
Bank of America is the National Sponsor of Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938.
The presentation in Houston is generously supported by Fayez Sarofim; National Endowment for the Arts; The Eleanor and Frank Freed Foundation; Debra and Dan Friedkin; The Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation; Bérengère Primat; David and Anne Kirkland; Janie C. Lee and David B. Warren; The Linbeck Family Charitable Trust; Susanne and Bill Pritchard, The John P. McGovern Foundation; Taub Foundation: Marcy Taub Wessel, Henry J.N. Taub II, and H. Ben Taub; Clare Casademont and Michael Metz; Dedalus Foundation; Louisa Stude Sarofim; Baker Botts L.L.P.; Global Geophysical Services; Paul and Janet Hobby; Henrietta K. Alexander; Diane and Mike Cannon; Ann and Mathew Wolf; and the City of Houston.
United Airlines is the Preferred Airline of the Menil Collection.
Image: René Magritte, L'assassin menacé (The Menaced Assassin), 1927. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Kay Sage Tanguy Fund. © Charly Herscovici – ADAGP - ARS, 2014
Memories of a Voyage: The Late Work of René Magritte
By the end of the 1920s René Magritte had established his signature approach to painting, developing a realistic style that he used not to reinforce, but to undermine the viewer’s acceptance of what is real. He continued to paint seriously until the end of his life in 1967, his reputation expanding in tandem with the increasing visibility and popularity of Surrealism in the United States. During the post‐war period, Magritte often revisited and reinterpreted themes from earlier paintings, creating variations on his already established iconography. At the same time, he continued to develop new imagery that became some of his most recognizable motifs. These include subjects like the bowler‐hatted man in Golconda, and the landscape in which daylight and evening coincide in The Dominion of Light, 1954, one of over twenty variations he made on the theme starting in 1949.
Curated by Menil Director Josef Helfenstein and Assistant Curator Clare Elliott, Memories of a Voyage: The Late Work of René Magritte brings together approximately 12‐15 works dating from 1941–1967. Oil paintings will be shown alongside seldom‐seen preparatory drawings. The exhibition will also showcase gouaches‐ a medium Magritte relied on more and more heavily during this period, as well as a pair of rare painted bottles, only about 25 of which are known to be extant.
The artworks featured in “Memories of a Voyage: The Late Work of René Magritte” are drawn primarily from the Menil Collection’s deep holdings of the artist’s work, which are rivaled only by those of the Musée Magritte in Brussels. The exhibition is presented simultaneously with Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary: 1926–1938 a project focused on the formative years of Magritte’s career. Visitors will therefore have a rare opportunity to experience the full scope of the artist’s career.
Image: René Magritte, Souvenir de Voyage III (Memory of a Journey), 1951. The Menil Collection, Houston, Gift of Adelaide de Menil Carpenter in honor of John and Dominique de Menil. © Charly Herscovici – ADAGP - ARS, 2013. Photo: Paul Hester.