‘It is necessary to overturn and transform painting, sculpture and poetry. A form of art is now demanded which is based on the necessity of this new vision. The Baroque has guided us in this direction, in all its as yet unsurpassed grandeur, where the plastic form is inseparable from the notion of time, the images appear to abandon the plane and continue into space the movements they suggest’ (LUCIO FONTANA)
‘When, in the final burning moments of the universe, time and space no longer exist, no-one will remember the monuments built by man although not one hair of his head will have been lost. We do not intend to abolish art or stop life: we want paintings to come out of their frames, and sculptures from under their glass case. An aerial, artistic portrayal of a minute will last for thousands of years in eternity’ (LUCIO FONTANA)
Like a relic from an ancient, prehistoric era, or an enigmatic cipher from a far away cosmic dimension, Lucio Fontana’s dramatic Concetto spaziale is one of a series known as the barocchi or ‘baroques’, which the artist had begun in 1954. Born out of Fontana’s preceding series, the pietre or ‘stones’, with the barocchi the artist immersed himself in the physical materials of painting in order to further his Spatialist explorations, applying thick, gestural swathes of impastoed oil paint in rich and opulent colours, and embellishing the dramatic surface with glitter or glass stones, or a combination of both. Excessive, emotive and sumptuous, the barocchi are some of the most gestural and embellished works of Fontana’s career and Concetto spaziale, which the artist executed in 1956, is no exception. Against a searing orange background, a dramatic formation of interlocking black lines is imprinted, creating a dramatic topography of crevices and mounds of thick, dense matter that is interspersed with constellations of the artist’s signature holes. Movement, time, light and space are all invoked in this dynamic, three-dimensional painting, a glittering incarnation of Fontana’s Spatialist theories.
Fontana’s direct reference to the Baroque in this series of Concetti spaziale was by no means a new idea within his oeuvre, but can instead be seen as the culmination of the closely held affinity that he had had with this stylistic tendency since his earliest days as an artist. The Baroque had played a fundamental and foundational role in the conception and development of Fontana’s Spatialism – the radical movement he founded in Milan in 1947. In his desire to incorporate the dynamic concepts of space and time into his artistic production, Fontana cited the Baroque as being the only movement to have previously achieved this. ‘Space was represented with increasing breadth over the centuries’, Fontana explained in the Manifesto Blanco of 1946. ‘[The] Baroque was a leap ahead in this sense: it represented space with a magnificence that is still unsurpassed and added the notion of time to the plastic arts. The figures seemed to abandon the flat surface and continue the represented movements in space’ (Manifesto Blanco, 1946, in E. Crispolti and R. Siligato (eds.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Rome, 1998, p. 115). Fontana did not interpret the Baroque in a purely formal manner; rather, he drew on the dramatic dynamism, the vigour and the visual immediacy that characterises the painting and sculpture of this broadly encompassing 17th Century style. With its explosive composition, gestural surface and exuberant, exaggerated materiality, Concetto spaziale is the visual embodiment of these ideas. While the constellations of holes penetrate and incorporate the dark, boundless spatial realm that lies behind the canvas, the painterly gestures protrude outwardly from the surface, creating a vibrant sense of movement, as they appear to continue through space. Neither painting nor sculpture, this work therefore embodies the notions of real time and space, a dynamic, instinctively rendered ‘spatial concept’.
Just a year after he executed Concetto spaziale, in 1957, Fontana made a radical breakthrough when he sliced through the surface of the canvas itself, a monumental gesture that resonated with a dramatic simplicity and a profound purity. Expelling all embellishment and reducing the composition to a monochromatic surface, Fontana would never again return to the dramatic gesturality and exaggerated materiality of the barocchi. It is these striking polarities and aesthetic extremes that characterise Fontana’s working practice as a whole, as Sarah Whitfield has written: ‘The vastness of the universe is echoed in the microcosm of the hole; the mysteries of geological time are balanced by the still greater mysteries of outer space; and when he speaks about the duration of art he weighs a minute against a millennium. His art swings like a pendulum between poles of severity and joyous abandon, between purity and decadence, between a “whorish fascination” with certain colours and materials and the bell-like clarity of the sculptural gesture. Fontana’s instinct was to embellish…but his goal lay at the other extreme’ (S. Whitfield, Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., London, 2000, pp. 18-19).