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Title: Hybrid Species: Lee Bontecou's Sculpture and Drawing, 1958-1971
Authors: Katz, Anna C.
Advisors: Foster, Hal
Contributors: Art and Archaeology Department
Keywords: Bontecou
Subjects: Art history
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Though known today for being forgotten, sculptor Lee Bontecou (b. 1931) was broadly recognized in the early and mid-1960s as one of the leading artists of her generation. Tapping into art historical debates of the 1960s that turn on the question of the medium specificity, drawing on Jacques Derrida's theory of the "law of genre," and mining the etymology of the term "hybrid," I argue that Bontecou's metal and fabric wall reliefs are hybrids of painting and sculpture: they are paintings generically and sculptures specifically. Medium hybridity divests of the dominant histories and criticisms of this period that pose sculptural or otherwise three-dimensional practice as a logical elaboration or corrective repudiation of modernist painting. In the late 1960s, Bontecou discontinued the wall reliefs altogether and turned to figurative, if otherworldly, sculptures of fish and flower forms in translucent plastic that were poorly received. I propose that the plastic sculptures hybridize the categories of the organic and the mechanical: clad in screwed-on armor and gas masks, her plant and marine forms are post-apocalyptic mutants outfitted for and by a violent ecology. They position specificity in relation to evolutionary, survivalist specialization and modernist medium specificity alike--to endangered natural species and sculpture in the face of extinction. My dissertation also treats Bontecou's soot, graphite, and charcoal drawings, considering how they give coherence to and pry open Bontecou's sculptural practice. Following the 1971 exhibition of her plastic sculptures, Bontecou withdrew from the New York art world, refusing to sell or show new work until 2003 when a major retrospective brought about her second meteoric rise to fame. My dissertation is the first book-length study of Bontecou's oeuvre during the period of her most active public production. It offers a narrative of Bontecou's sculpture and drawing, homing in on hybridity and constellating around the terms of the specific and the general; it analyzes her reception; and it negotiates her place/non-place in the field of postwar American sculpture, arguing that her work tracks, and resists, the shift from the modernist emphasis on the specific medium to the postmodernist, post-medium notion of art in general.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Art and Archaeology

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