For Lucio Fontana, slashing the canvas was an act of creation, not destruction. In that simple gesture, Fontana opened up the redundant surface of the canvas to a realm of new possibilities. This was his Gordian Knot-like solution to the enigma that had faced him for so long: in the modern age, the Space Age, where can art go? What should the pictures of the age of rockets look like?
Concetto spaziale, Attese appears to answer that question. The three vertical slashes have a calligraphic simplicity and elegance that borders on the iconic. Yet there is no image. There is not even abstraction. Instead, Fontana has turned the canvas into a portal, for the slashed hole implies that there is some scope for travel to the other side. In this sense, his decision to break through to the other side of the picture surface reflects the change in perspective that space travel introduced to the world. Over a century earlier, Man had seen the Earth from the air, but by the time Concetto spaziale, Attese was executed, Man had broken free of gravity and had seen the planet from the Cosmos. The slashes in this work are the artist's equivalent. By creating these spatial, Fontana has made us aware of the three-dimensional nature of the canvas as an object. It is no longer the flat plane upon which the drama of art plays itself out, but is instead an object, a sculpture-like entity-- Fontana has introduced us to this new perspective.
By pointing to the three-dimensionality of the canvas as an object, Fontana betrays his origins as a sculptor, not a painter. Early in his career he had been a monumental sculptor in Argentina, following in his father's footsteps, and he continued this later in Italy. But even in the 1950s, he had begun to interest himself in other media, in works on paper and on canvas. It was perhaps his training as a sculptor that led him to investigate and disrupt the flatness of these media. Initially, he pierced these with holes which appeared like punctures, hinting at a frenetic violence in their creation. But in the so-called Attese, where slashes replaced these holes, he introduced a sense of refinement. The clean edges of these cuts and the implicit rhythm within their gestural sweep down the canvas fill the work with an elegance that hints at the ballet-like act of their creation.
As a sculptor, then, Fontana introduced us to the concept that the canvas is itself an object in three-dimensional space; but in fact, it is in another sense that Fontana's Concetto spaziale, Attese is truly spatial or three-dimensional: it is not the canvas, but the holes inside it that are Fontana's true work of art. With his smooth and elegant slash, he has sculpted space itself, creating an area that at the moment is held in place by the canvas. To sculpt with space as a raw material-- what could be more apt in the Space Age? Discussing this new perspective, the Second Spatial Manifesto declared that:
'If the artist, locked in his tower, once represented himself and his astonishment and saw the landscape through his windows and then, having come down from the castles into the cities, he mixed with other men and saw from close-up the trees and the objects, now, today, we spatial artists have escaped from the cities, we have shattered our shell, our physical crust, and we have looked at ourselves from above, photographing the earth from rockets in flight' (signed by G. Dova, L. Fontana, B. Joppolo, G. Kaisserlian, M. Milani, A Tullier, Milan, March 1948, reproduced in E. Crispolti & R. Siligato (ed.), Lucio Fontana, exh.cat., Milan, 1998, p.118).
Fontana's desire to create an art that remains relevant to the era of scientific discoveries in which he lived is evident in the gestures with which he created Concetto spaziale, Attese. The slashes, the movements of the arm and the knife, are themselves an artwork that exists not only in Space, but also in Time, a tribute to the world of science post-Einstein. The gesture, the opening of that space, is something that is not immortal but which, through its very irrevocability, is nonetheless eternal:
'The work of art is destroyed by time.
'When, in the final blaze of the universe, time and space no longer exist, there will be no memory of the monuments erected by man, although not a single hair on his head will have been lost. 'But we do not intend to abolish the art of the past or to stop life: we want painting to escape from its frame and sculpture from its bell-jar. An expression of aerial art of a minute is as if it lasts a thousand years, an eternity' (ibid., p.118).