'In future there will no longer be art the way we understand it today. I don't know...colors and forms will be launched into the sky... And this will go for painting as well as for sculpture and architecture ...No, art, the way we think about it today will cease...there'll be something else. I make these cuts and these holes, these Attese and these Concetti...Compared to the Spatial era I am merely a man making signs in the sand. I made these holes. But what are they? They are the mystery of the Unknown in art, they are the Expectation of something that must follow' (L. Fontana, quoted in L.M. Barbero, 'Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York', L.M. Barbero (ed.), Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2006, p. 47).
Lucio Fontana's radiant, scarlet, Concetto spaziale, Attesa, is a remarkably large, single slash painting from the artist's celebrated tagli, or 'cuts' series. Executed in 1964, it was created in the same year that Fontana completed his seminal series of Fine di Dio. These oval-shaped, dramatically perforated paintings, rendered in rich hues of oil paint: gold, pink, green, and black, pronounced the end of religion in painting and the triumph of the conceptual in art. With its sumptuous expanse of red, violated with a perfected cut through its centre, Concetto spaziale, Attesa can be seen as a perfect extension to this important cycle. Fontana offers his canvas as a conceptual proposition; the clean, sweeping cut operating as a portal to a new dimension, space opening up behind the flat picture plane. In doing so, Fontana was reflecting the technical and scientific concerns of the space age, exploring the infinite in a quest to understand the universe. Formerly part of the distinguished collection of Serge de Bloe, Concetto spaziale, Attesa was a linchpin of the collection; one of the largest works in the collector's comprehensive grouping of Fontana's practice.
With its geometric simplicity - the cut penetrates the centre of the painting to neatly bisect the magnificent red canvas, Fontana's gesture recalls the slim, hieratic, painted 'zips' of Barnett Newman. Sailing vertically through the composition, Newman's so-called 'zips' of differentiated colour: black, white, red and yellow interrupt the visual panorama just as Fontana was to do with his violent cut. For Newman, the object of his painting was to recover a spiritual in art. As he was to aver in his seminal essay, 'The Sublime is Now': 'if we are living in a time without a legend or mythos that can be called sublime... how can we be creating a sublime art? Instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man, or 'life', we are making it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings' (B. Newman, quoted in A. Temkin (ed.), Barnett Newman, exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 2002, p. 47). For Fontana however, his ambition was distinctly different, his cut suggesting stillness, quiet, mystery, the very renunciation of religion and earthly emotion in favour of an other-worldly space beyond Earth and beyond God.
Fontana had made his first and only trip to America in 1961, following the acquisition of two tagli paintings by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, at the behest of its then Director of Architecture, Philip Johnson. In this city of towering skyscrapers, Fontana saw the possibilities of the futuristic urban Utopia. His swift and precise drawings of the skyscrapers inspired and informed his large-scale, dramatically vertical Metallos, where he articulated the reflective metallic field with gauged holes and slashes. During this trip, Fontana would arguably have come into contact with the monumental, painted colour fields undertaken by Newman. Indeed Fontana would have been impressed by the eighteen feet long and eight feet high Vir Heroicus Sublimis, held at the Museum of Modern Art, which floods the viewer with an intense chromatic light, its bold cadmium red invoking a sense of the sublime.
Following his trip, Fontana began an intense period of investigation which culminated in 1963-64 with his Fine di Dio series. With their fertile, egglike forms, the rich, painted canvases took on the opulence and universal symbolism of creation and regeneration from religions of old, integrating them into his new tenets of Spazialismo. As implied by the title of the series, 'The End of God', Fontana looked to convey how the materials of this new age and the void marked the end of God and the advent of the new space age. Lending credence to Fontana's claim in The Second Spatialist Manifesto (1948) that 'artists anticipate scientific gestures', on 28 July 1964 Ranger 7 succeeded in transmitting the first close-range photographs of the surface of the moon. In light of these investigations and informed by his recent time in New York, Fontana continued to probe new conceptual frontiers with his potent, red Concetto spaziale, Attesa.
A trusted friend and devoted collector of Fontana's work, Serge de Bloe was in frequent contact with the artist in the year of Concetto spaziale, Attesa's creation. De Bloe collected important iterations from Fontana's varied series of the period, including his tagli, olii, metalli, and Fine di Dio, especially from 1960 onward. Concetto spaziale, Attesa was complimented by other important works from Fontana's practice such as Concetto spaziale (62 ME 33) from his metalli series of three slashes in copper, Concetto spaziale (62 O7) from his olii series of malleable gauges in gold, and Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio from his celebrated Fine di Dio series in white.
At the dawn of the 20th century, theories of modern physics shook the very foundation of the way man perceived himself in his surroundings, and indeed in the universe. Fontana's fascination with the recent technological advancements that showed that the image of space had become an indeterminate universe without confines and external points of reference, laid the basis for his own spatial research. Shocked by the overwhelming power of the atomic bomb, the world acutely felt the huge potential nuclear technology, elemental particles and the atom possessed to change mankind, opening the door to an unknown reality. Fontana felt it essential to change art's nature and form in order to match the spirit of the time. This new art would be free of any genre classification and would be 'neither painting, nor sculpture, nor lines outlined in space, but continuity of space and matter' (L. Fontana, quoted in 'Letter to G. Giani, 2 Novemeber 1949', P. Campiglio, Lucio Fontana: Lettere 1919-1968, Milan 1999, p. 243). In 1946, Fontana, along with other avant-garde artists in Buenos Aires, published the Manifesto Blanco. This document outlined a new ideology, Spatialism, postulating that 'we abandon the practice of known art forms and we approach the development of an art based on the unity of time and space' (L. Fontana, Manifesto Blanco, 1946, in R. Fuchs, Lucio Fontana: La cultura dell'occhio, exh. cat., Castello di Rivoli, Rivoli, 1986, p. 80). The new concept of the creative 'gesture' was the direct result of the artist's ability to pick up the pieces of destruction and render effective that new plasticity of space understood as Matter.
Fontana's physical manifestation of this ideological stance was developed first through his buchi or 'holes' and subsequently crystallised through his tagli first exhibited in 1958. As a plastic material with the potential to chart new depths, Fontana began to mark the surface of his pictures with a sequence of small slashes. As his oeuvre developed, these small incisions became clear fractures; rhythmic and expressive signs made using a blade directly on the canvas. In Concetto spaziale, attese, we see the artist having mastered this practice, the long vertical slash showing no signs of struggle, but only a confident sweep; the most intense luminosity occurring at the point where the slightly curving planes at each side of the cut meet the slit of dark, seemingly infinite space at the centre.