The home shared for decades by the artist Lee Bontecou and her artist husband, Bill Giles, is up for sale, with a $5 million asking price for a five-bedroom, 7,750-square-foot house on 160 acres of land in the remote western Pennsylvania town of Orbisonia. A promotional post at Realtor.com states that “buyers should pack paintbrushes in their deep pockets: This farm on 160 acres served as the home and studio of the American artists Lee Bontecou and Bill Giles. The space includes a main house with three studios, an original restored farmhouse, and a remodeled, climate-controlled barn that includes more studio spaces.” The listing itself suggests “the possibilities are endless and you will see quality and thoughtfulness around every corner.”
Selena Jetnarayan, the agent working on the sale of the property for Keller Williams Keystone Realty, said she had been hired by the couple as the broker for the offering, which was posted in early February. So far, “We’ve had a little bit of interest, not too much—it’s a big price tag,” Jetnarayan said. “The people interested were more interested in the area and the land—not about Lee, yet.”
The listing is unique for Orbisonia. “It’s a very small town, kind of in the middle of nowhere,” Jetnarayan said. “When Lee was going back and forth between this place and Manhattan, they would take a helicopter.” The site, which is one hour by car from Harrisburg and four hours from New York, is “remote,” the agent said. “There’s no Target, no big grocery stores, nothing like that. It’s in the country, and there’s a lot of privacy.”
In an article about Bontecou for ARTnews in 2003, Ann Landi wrote of traveling to the house in Orbisonia, “There is little here that doesn’t fit in this scene of Norman Rockwell–like pastoral bliss—except, perhaps, that one of the owners of the property happens to have made some of the most ferocious and memorable sculpture of the second half of the last century.” The report chronicles Bontecou’s storied reclusiveness dating back at that point some three decades, to a time when she and Giles moved away from New York and its teeming art world after her last show at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1971. Bontecou came back, in a fashion, for a retrospective in 2003 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles that traveled the following year to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A review of the show in the New York Times ran under the headline “Lee Bontecou Returns From Her Faraway Planet.” A New Yorker story by Calvin Tomkins at the time began like so: “The disappearance of Lee Bontecou has been an art-world mystery for more than thirty years.”
While the artist has remained absent in the recent decades since, her work continues to command attention. In 2010, the MoMA show “Lee Bontecou: All Freedom in Every Sense” featured sculpture and works on paper from 1958 to 1998. In 2011, a solo show titled “Recent Work: Sculpture and Drawing” opened at the gallery FreedmanArt in New York. A drawing show went on view in 2013 at Hauser & Wirth gallery in Zürich, and the following year, “Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds” served as the first museum retrospective of her drawings, opening at the Menil Collection in Houston and traveling to the Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey.
Photographs of the artist’s home in the real-estate listing show empty space where studio materials and artworks used to be. Of the climate-controlled barn, Jetnarayan said of Bontecou, “She stored art there—that’s where she stored her stuff that went all over the world.” Asked if she had seen artwork in the home, the agent said, “Not anymore. They got everything out before they listed it.”
Attempts to reach Bontecou and Giles, whom ARTnews has learned have relocated to Florida, have thus far proven unsuccessful. As of now, their longtime home and property in Pennsylvania remain available for sale—with the prospect of special significance for appreciators of Bontecou’s art. As Landi wrote of Bontecou in ARTnews in 2003, when she and her husband were constructing the home and studio complex on land they had owned since 1966, “Though this particular rural Eden is just starting to make its way into her work, the natural world has always been a part of who she is as a person and an artist.”