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    Sale 7618

    The Italian Sale

    20 October 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 112

    Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)

    Concetto spaziale

    Price Realised  


    Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
    Concetto spaziale
    signed and dated 'l. Fontana 57' (lower right); signed, titled, dated and numbered 'l. Fontana Concetto Spaziale 57 N. 127' (on the reverse)
    oil, sand and glitter on canvas
    45 7/8 x 35¼in. (116.4 x 89.3cm.)
    Executed in 1957

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    Private Collection, Italy, by whom acquired directly from the artist.
    Acquired by the present owner circa 1995.

    Pre-Lot Text

    'I make holes, infinity passes through them, light passes through them, there is no need to paint'

    During the first half of the Twentieth Century, science became a new religion, redefining the landscape of the West and changing our understanding of the world and the universe. Technology, science's more practical offspring, advanced by leaps and bounds, resulting in flight, in rockets and in the hope of space travel. The Italian sculptor Lucio Fontana responded to the brave new world whose birth he witnessed by creating new artforms that were relevant to this new era of speed, radio, television, transmissions, experiments and satellites. And he used new media: space, light and time. This was most perfectly encapsulated in his works involving holes, a technique that became his signature and which paved the way for revolution after revolution in artistic circles. 'If any of my discoveries are important, the 'hole' is,' he declared. 'By 'hole' I meant going outside the limitations of a picture frame and being free in one's conception of art. A formula like 1+1=2. I did not make holes in order to wreck the picture. On the contrary, I made holes in order to find something else...' (Lucio Fontana, quoted in T. Trini, 'The last interview given by Fontana', pp. 34-36, W. Beeren & N. Serota (ed.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Amsterdam & London, 1988, p. 34).

    It was not only the hole itself, but also the process of creation of the hole that was central to Fontana's work from this point onwards. By creating this void within the more traditional artistic supports which he considered so redundant in the modern age of science and technology, Fontana was sculpting in pure space. Just as his friend and fellow artist Yves Klein declared his paintings the ashes of his work, so too in Fontana's pictures, it is the space itself rather than the support that surrounds it, be it in the form of paper, canvas, metal, part of a building and so forth, that is the main sculpture, the expression of Spatialism. And it is that irrevocable gesture, that harnessing of a field of the void, that is timeless. 'Art is eternal, but it cannot be immortal,' the First Manifesto of Spatialism declared, explaining that, 'it doesn't matter to us if a gesture, once accomplished, lives for a second or a millennium, for we are convinced that, having accomplished it, it is eternal' (signed by Fontana, G. Kaisserlian, B. Joppolo, M. Milani, reproduced in E. Crispolti & R. Siligato (ed.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., 1998, pp. 117-18). It was, then, in the fabric of time and of space, rather than in the weave of his canvases, that Fontana was working. In the very space that he had opened up with his slashing or punching gestures, be it in canvas, metal or clay, he was crystallising his own act for eternity, regardless of the perishability of the other materials, or indeed of our world itself.

    Creating these apertures in the pictures surface, Fontana was opening up a conduit for light-- one which he would often deliberately seal with black tape in order to emphasise the sense of Space and infinity lurking behind the canvas. Light was one of the media with which Fontana had made some of his most impressive works on an architectural scale, beginning with his Ambiente spaziale with Black Light in 1949, in which an abstract form, covered in special paint, was hung in a black room that was illuminated only by ultraviolet light. The form therefore hung, radiant and luminous, a swirling impossibility floating over the heads of the viewers. It was also during the same year, at the very end of the first half of the Twentieth Century, that Fontana had first 'discovered' his holes. The combination of sculptural form and plays of light that was central to that Ambiente spaziale echoed, albeit on a smaller scale, through the picture-surfaces that he penetrated. As he had stated: 'infinity passes through them, light passes through them, there is no need to paint' (Lucio Fontana, quoted in Enrico Crispolti, 'Spatialism and Informel. The Fifties', pp. 144-150 in Crispolti & Siligato, loc. cit., 1998, p. 146).

    These developments owed a great deal to Fontana's background. By the time he created his holes and his first Ambiente spaziale, he was approaching forty years old; he already had international recognition as a sculptor, a skill he had learnt at the hands of his father during his youth in Argentina, where he was born, and Italy. And it is this sculptural perspective that perhaps informed these holes, as they brought to the fore the three-dimensionality of the pictures, emphasising their status as objects in the round. The illustrative surface, which had formerly been the arena for flawed fictions of figuration in two dimensions, has had its extra depth highlighted by Fontana's act of penetration. Just as flight, and seeing the ground from the air, had granted Mankind a new perspective, and just as space travel would introduce images of the Earth itself hanging in the vastness of the Cosmos, so too Fontana has jolted his viewer into a new position, asking us to see art from a new angle.

    Fontana's use of time, space and light as his media may only have truly begun in 1949; however, already his sculptures had involved complex plays of light as well as explorations of the interplay between matter and the space around it. His figures had often featured sprawling elements that reached into the space around them, the sculpture bleeding into its surroundings. While in Argentina, where he spent the years of the Second World War, Fontana had begun to formulate ideas of Spatialism. Indeed, it was there, in 1946, that some of his followers wrote the Manifesto Blanco, a prototype for the Spatialist manifestoes that would be published after his return to Italy. Already in 1946, the Manifesto Blanco recognised that, 'We live in the mechanical age. Painted canvas and upright plaster no longer have a reason to exist.' It took a few years for him to perfect and develop the means to surpass the obstacle of the traditional Western art forms, and it is telling that the act by which he created so many of his Concetti spaziali involved in part a gesture that invoked a sense of destruction of the old forms. Regardless of his protestations to the contrary, this was iconoclasm: Fontana was encouraging artists and viewers alike to move beyond the former accepted constraints and boundaries of art.

    The artistic solutions by which Fontana created a Spatial art suited to our new age varied hugely in effect. Groups of holes piercing a canvas would sometimes recall constellations; meanwhile, the balletic slashes of his Attese rank amongst the most elegant expressions of his Spatialism, as he himself recognised: 'With the slash I invented a formula that I don't think I can perfect. I managed with this formula to give the spectator an impression of spatial calm, of cosmic rigour, of serenity in infinity' (Fontana, quoted in E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, Vol. I, Milan, 2006, p. 105). In some of his sculptures, he introduced an emphatic materiality that thrust the Spatial concepts into a bolder relief, while his architectural projects thrust his viewers into those Spatial concepts. His more baroque works, for instance the Olii, the Venice series and the Metalli, shared some of this materiality, yet often featured reflective surfaces that recalled the gleaming reliquaries, icons, altarpieces and shimmering mosaics of so many Church interiors while also introducing a scientific character. And it is that strange interaction between church and technology that was so crucial to Fontana. For his works were intended as a new art for a new age, as a response to the new cosmogony in which Mankind found itself. When Man had travelled to Space and viewed the Earth from above, had seen what a speck within the infinite void our planet appeared, Fontana developed Spatialism, combining philosophy and spiritual awe with an aesthetic suited to an age of Science.

    William Paton



    L. Alloway, "Technical Manifesto Given at the 1st International Congress of Proportion at the IX Triennale , Milan, 1947", in Ark, London 1959, no. 5 (illustrated, p. 6).
    E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana; Catalogue raisonné des peintures, sculptures et environnements spatiaux, vol. I, Brussels 1974, no. 57 BA 42 (illustrated, p. 53).
    E. Crispolti, Fontana; Catalogo generale, vol. I, Milan 1986, no. 57 BA 36 (illustrated, p. 181).
    E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana; Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. I, Milan 2006, no. 57 BA 36 (illustrated, p. 336).


    London, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Paintings from the Damiano Collection, Fontana, Dova, Crippa, Clemente, January 1959, no. 5.