Lee Bontecou’s Untitled 1961 is six square feet of “welded steel, canvas, black fabric, rawhide, copper wire, and soot.” It looks like a painting of an angular, soil-tinted sunburst or an aerial photograph of a modular ant-hill. An in-person visit or natural-light photo reveals the literal and figurative depth of the piece. There is a cavernous protrusion in the upper centre. The darker-than-black hole is ominous, like an entry point for some alternate world which is both welcoming and exclusive.
Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) visitors notice and approach the piece. They scrutinize the metallic seams that bind the multi-textured and multi-coloured canvas pieces that make up this puzzle of a sculpture. Most people only hesitantly put their heads anywhere near the centre. Some look in, almost afraid of what they might see. One man uses his cell-phone to try to illuminate and capture the inside of the bulging hollow. He looks at the image on his screen. He’s obviously unimpressed and quickly moves on to attempt to pilfer some other photos.
Bontecou has created this installation in such a way that even in the bright white-lit gallery there is absolutely nothing that can be seen within. The brilliant effect is that it invites close, almost scientific examination of its vacuous cavern. With no evidence to be reported, temporary analysts are gently forced back into the role of admirers. The vast nothingness of the hole encourages appreciation of the intricate details of its exterior.