‘The taglio is an act of faith in Infinity’
Fontana had first executed this radical gesture exactly a decade before Concetto spaziale, Attesa, in 1957. Fontana never explained the precise genesis of this emphatic, irretractable and iconic action, however, various anecdotes describe how the first tagli came to exist. Art historian, Jan van der Marck claimed that it was a moment of anger and frustration that caused Fontana to lash out at the canvas and slash through it, having become ‘irritated by his own indulgence in surface embellishment’ (A. White, Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch, Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, 2011, p. 208). Yet there is another description as to how the slashes came into being. Antonio Boschi, an early collector of Fontana’s work recalled: ‘Fontana had made a painting that played with the colour blue that I liked very much, and I asked him for it. He thought it was unfinished and empty; he wanted to add something and didn’t know what. Finally, one Saturday, we found it with the slashes, which were figures in the landscape’ (Fontana, quoted in P. Gottschaller, op. cit., p. 60). In contrast to van der Marck’s explanation, which implies the slash was born out of anger, a gesture of destruction, Boschi’s by contrast reinforces the inherently constructive impulse of the cuts; a fact that Fontana himself often emphasised. ‘And the slash, and the holes, the first holes, were not the destruction of the painting’, he stated, ‘it was a dimension beyond the painting, the freedom to conceive art through any means, through any form’ (Fontana quoted in E. Crispolti & R. Siligato (eds.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Rome, 1998, p. 81).
With the cut, Fontana found the most complete, refined and visually striking answer to his Spatialist quest. First conceived in Argentina in 1946, Spatialism was a movement that called for art be revitalised, freed from the stultifying traditions of the past, and instead reflect and move in sync with the pioneering scientific developments of the time. In the Manifesto Blanco of 1946, Fontana and a group of avant-garde artists emphatically declared: ‘The discovery of new physical forces, control over matter and space gradually impose conditions that have never existed in the whole course of history. The application of these discoveries to all the forms of life brings about a change in the nature of man… We live in the mechanical age. Painted canvas and upright plaster no longer have a reason to exist’ (Manifesto Blanco, 1946, in E. Crispolti & R. Siligato (eds.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Milan, 1998, p. 115).
It was first with the buchi and subsequently with the tagli that Fontana succeeded in creating art that transcended the boundaries of painting and sculpture to instead become ‘spatial concepts’. By penetrating through the flat, two-dimensional picture plane and revealing the dark space that lay beyond, Fontana introduced space and by extension, real time into the structure of the canvas. The chasm of blackness that is revealed with the penetrating slash encourages the viewer to contemplate the infinite void that exists beyond the earth’s surface, the boundless realm of unfathomable cosmic space. In this way, Fontana had not only created a work that could interact with reality, but one that elegantly encapsulated the extraordinary developments of the space age. ‘The cuts that I made so far represent above all a philosophical space’, the artist stated in 1962. ‘But that which I am seeking, now, is no longer philosophical space but rather physical space. Two or three years have been enough, in fact, and space is no longer an abstraction, but has become a dimension which man can even inhabit, violating it with jets, with Sputniks, with space ships. It is a human dimension that can generate physiological pain, a terror in the mind, and I, in my most recent canvases, am trying to give form to this sensation.’ (Fontana, quoted in L. Massimo Barbero, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, exh. cat., Venice & New York, 2006-07, p. 24).