'Gold is as beautiful as the sun' (L. Fontana, quoted in L. Massimo Barbero (ed.), Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Venice & New York, 2006, p. 24).
Shimmering and golden, the warm, metallic surface of Concetto spaziale is filled with the evidence of the movements and ideas of the founder of Spatial art, Lucio Fontana. Into the lavishly impastoed golden paint, Fontana has inscribed a variety of gestural lines, creating a map-like topography of baroque swirls and eddies, while a near halo like haze of punctures open up the complex spatial surface of the canvas. At the centre of the burnished surface are two of his iconic slashes, highlighted by the artist with an elaborate figure-of-eight arabesque of textured, golden paint.
Concetto spaziale was created in 1960, and therefore dates from an historic period in Fontana's career. It was only during the previous few years that Fontana had developed what would become one of his most lasting artistic devices: the hole in the picture surface. Initially, this had taken the form of stabbed holes such as those in the periphery of Concetto spaziale; in 1958, these had evolved in works on paper into short slashes, and in 1959 these had been introduced to Fontana's paintings, often in the form of his so-called 'Expectations', or Attese. Concetto spaziale is therefore an extremely early result of this development. Indeed, with its luxurious gold paint and complex textured surface, it appears to celebrate the new visual language that Fontana had created.
The complex, impastoed surface of Concetto spaziale is composed of a multitude of incised and punctured marks. The variety of gestures inscribed into the thick metallic paint surface instantly identifies the present work as one of Fontana's celebrated Olii. Defined by their thick, often acrylic-based paints, the materiality of the paint surface visually records the artist's impassioned movements, his brushstrokes immortalized in the quickly drying surface. In particular, Concetto spaziale prefigures what are often considered some of Fontana's most important works, his Venezie, the Venice pictures. Typified by their golden paint surface, this series of works are widely considered to be his magnum opus. Created in 1961 by Fontana in response to La Serenissima, the floating city in its shimmering lagoon, the gilt surface of the Venezie was the artist's first response to landscape in his pictures, and resulted in a string of masterpieces, most of which comprise metallic paint and various cuts in square-format canvases; often, an island-like shape is emphasised. All these factors are present in Concetto spaziale, making it appear that Fontana returned to such designs for his Venezie, revisiting a language he had already developed in the present work.
Just as the metallic paint in the 'Venice' paintings was used as an analogue for both the shining waters of the Venetian lagoon and for the gilded mediaeval and Baroque ornamentation that makes the city such a sumptuous aesthetic feast, in Concetto spaziale, the complex goldground surface again recalls the art of the Middle Ages in Italy, while the curlicues that Fontana has etched into the paint have a Baroque dynamism to them. In this way, Fontana reveals himself to have been looking back to the art of the past, making references to an ancient tradition. However, with the punctures in the surface and the abstraction of the composition in Concetto spaziale, Fontana can also be seen as an iconoclast, twisting the legacy of the old, highlighting its obsolescence, while also re-tasking it for the modern world.
The punctures in the surface are destructive, as Fontana discards the past; at the same time, they introduce space into the realm of the picture, revealing the dark dimension beyond while also illustrating the work's three-dimensionality. Fontana was responding to space and to the age of space travel that he now inhabited, to the world of rockets and technology. Accordingly, his use of gold paint appears to reference the past while adopting the language of science in its metallic sheen. Meanwhile, the appearance of the floating planet implied by the incised circular form of Concetto spaziale with its further curling corona and atmospheric buffer of punctures hints at some new cosmogony for the Space Age. For Fontana, the idea that Man had sent up vessels that had left the atmosphere and looked down on Earth from above was a parallel for his intervention with the picture surface: just as Yuri Gagarin would, the year after Concetto spaziale was created, look down upon our home planet from a completely new perspective, so too Fontana had already seen the picture plane in an utterly fresh and yet undeniable way that would prove to be both highly revolutionary and influential.