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This View by Nancy LeMay
Nancy LeMay is a five-time Emmy winning broadcast designer who has worked both in New York and LA, in network and local. She is a teacher and a painter as well. You can reach her through her website, and by email at

Return of the Native

It's a bit of fine spectator sport to watch the art world's backflips (and backpedalling) over the unexpected reappearance of American sculptor Lee Bontecou.

Her name rang no bells with me; one of my art students passed along a fascinating biographical piece which had run earlier in the year in the New Yorker. The long and the short of it is this: Bontecou, now 72, had been a New York art world darling of the 1950s and '60s. She was the only woman in the Castelli Gallery's stable of high powered and influential artists. Well regarded, well-reviewed and in-the-swim as the Soho Art Scene began its' ascendancy in the late '60s, she seemed to be on the proverbial fast-track to codified artistic fame. Her complex mixed-media constructions suggested jet engines, or creatures both organic and manmade. Then, in 1971, she showed a group of large plastic fish and flowers with small tubes protruding from them. They looked as if they might have been creatures unhooked from life support; Bontecou believed that they reflected the growing public concern about the consequences of environmental neglect.

The reviews were scathing.

So she vanished from the world's hottest art scene for the better part of 30 years. She taught, moved out to rural Pennsylvania, and worked-continuously, creatively, on pieces big and complex. The current retrospective gives audiences the chance to evaluate both her 'old' and 'new' statements. (Now up in LA at the Hammer Museum, the show will move to Chicago and then to New York.)

As fascinating as the work that this now white-haired lady sculptor has produced, equally fascinating, perhaps, is the response to her reappearance in the art world. The art press has been wringing its' hands and breathlessly asking "How could she do it!?? How could she have gotten along without us?? How could such great work have been produced out on a farm in Pennsylvania-so far from the intellectual stimulations of Soho??????"

This chest-puffing offers us a really funny sideshow; 'The World of Serious Art' is still convinced that "Real Talent" can only be nurtured within a few square blocks of real estate in New York, or, say, London and Paris. This concept, dating back to the 1940s, was already losing traction by the time Lee Bontecou 'vanished'. Now, in our fully wired, interactive and decentralized world, it seems a truly ancient concept. Lee Bontecou's powerful reemergence from her creative 'exile' should finally put an end to those old ideas. Artists everywhere should applaud.