Sumptuous and inviting, Concetto spaziale, Attese is one of Lucio Fontana's iconic and iconoclastic tagli, or cuts, and was painted in 1966. This picture glows with the warm red of its monochrome field; the sensuality of this rich colour is accentuated by the seven cuts which have sliced through the surface, each leaving strips that curl slightly, creating a ripple across the canvas, voluptuous undulations that add to the sheer, almost tactile pleasure of contemplating this work. Formerly in the collection of Hans and Ursula Hahn, with which it was exhibited in Gerolstein in 1971, Concetto spaziale, Attese was also shown in Dusseldorf during the artist's own lifetime alongside other works from private collections in the region.
In Concetto spaziale, Attese, Fontana has created the slashes that punctuate the canvas in a progression that echoes the artist's own movements before the picture during the moment of execution, as he went with his Stanley knife from one to the other. They are not rigidly parallel, lending them a greater sense of life, of Fontana's own interaction with the work. Instead, they have a near-calligraphic appearance as they articulate the canvas, appearing almost in two separate bundles.
For Fontana, in his tagli, the important element was the space that he created within the framework of the canvas by cutting it open. This was the cosmos in microcosm, a sliver of the void and of the immaterial enshrouded within the bold canvas. As such, it is unbreakable, eternal. Those brief moments of creation with which Fontana slit the picture surface open are immortalised and therefore irrevocable. The vibrant red of the canvas emphasises the material dimension of the picture, which is further heightened by the mound-like forms resulting from the string of cuts. In Concetto spaziale, Attese, Fontana has brought the three-dimensionality of the picture, the fact that it is not a mere surface but instead an object in its own right, to the fore.
Jan van der Marck wrote that Fontana's tagli were created at the end of the 1950s in response to the increasing texture of his other pictures of the period, which often featured 'stones' attached to the surface or incised, viscous paint. While preparing for an exhibition, van der Marck wrote of Fontana that, 'In frustration he slashed into an unsuccessful canvas, and suddenly realised the potential of that gesture' (J. van der Marck, quoted in S. Whitfield, Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., London, 1999, p. 18). Van der Marck then speculated that, 'perhaps Fontana's mutilation of the canvas can be interpreted as a symbolic escape from his aesthetic predicament of being trapped in an overweighted style' (ibid., p. 18). This conclusion appears flawed, not least because it was only a couple of years later that Fontana would create his Venezia series, one of his most celebrated and also most baroque - or 'overweighted' - groups of works, often combining a lush materiality with the crisp slashes of the Attese. Fontana appears not so much to have been reacting to his own works such as the Olii, then, but instead to those of his contemporaries. Increasingly, a gestural school of painting was staking its claim to the dominance of the post-War avant garde in Europe. Informel gestures, rich textures, and frothy paint surfaces often reminiscent of Willem de Kooning were to be seen in the pictures of Emilio Vedova and many other contemporaries. Fontana, in his Attese, appears to have been a riposte to that form of painterly excess, allowing the serene cut to become the symbolic and literal escape from such opulent materiality. Looking at Concetto spaziale, Attese, the near-geometry of the group of cuts, each almost vertical, hints at a Barnett Newman-like crispness.
By the time that Fontana began painting his Attese, he had already used monochromes, often muddling their surfaces through a range of interventions. In the 'cuts' such as Concetto spaziale, Attese, though, there is often a uniformity, as the artist has used waterpaint, allowing the texture of the canvas to come through: the paint itself is a thin layer of red, insubstantial except in its visual impact, unlike the more tactile oil paint present in some other series. In this, Fontana was espousing an aesthetic that was also embraced by his radical young contemporaries - and friends - Yves Klein and Piero Manzoni. The three artists all used the monochrome to different ends. For Klein, his blue, pink, gold and occasionally white canvases were zones for contemplation that introduced an almost spiritual sensibility in the viewer, who would be lost in his trademark IKB, or International Klein Blue. Manzoni, by contrast, created his near-white so-called Achromes, selecting a colour that he considered to be as close to being devoid of colour, thus removing any specificity, any reference points, trying to create a work of art that contained so few elements that could be interpreted that it would become universal. For Fontana, the monochromes added to the visual intensity of the dark rifts that he incised in the canvas, as is clear in the contrast between the black strips here and the red of the surface. At the same time, in an echo of Manzoni's works, Fontana was removing clutter, removing distractions, removing everything - and leaving, in its place, Space.
This, then, was an act of constructive destruction. Fontana was creating by carving into the surface of his picture, shaping these areas, these inviolable zones of potentiality. In this way, he was creating a work of art that was literally apt for the Space Age in which he was now working. But while the single slashes that Fontana left on some canvases are often eloquent of a sort of serene solitude reflecting Mankind's loneliness at the fringes of a seemingly desert galaxy, the community of cuts in Concetto spaziale, Attese has a jostling rhythm, a lively staccato appearance that hints at energy - not least the artist's own - and which is accentuated by the similarity of these incisions to musical annotations.
On the reverse of his pictures, Fontana would often include inscriptions, sometimes featuring nonsensical arithmetic or train-of-thought commentary from his own life. In the case of Concetto spaziale, Attese, he appears to have recorded a later appointment about which he was excited: 'Today I am going to lunch with the Nobel Prize and friend Quasimodo'. This appears to be a reference to the acclaimed Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo, with whom Fontana actually collaborated on a multiple. Quasimodo, a friend of numerous Italian artists and a regular at the legendary Bar Jamaica in Milan, where Fontana was also a regular alongside other luminaries including Manzoni, Enrico Baj and Dario Fo. In 1959, Quasimodo had won the Nobel Prize in Literature, a decision that was considered controversial because he had been affiliated with Communism. However, it was for his embracing of peace in the realist verse of his post-War period, rather than his earlier, more lyrical work, that Quasimodo was thus recognised. Explaining his adoption of this realism, Quasimodo had said: 'We should say that the poet - man - now tries to place himself in the real world - not an ideal one-- so that he doesn't get hit over the head again while he watches the setting of the Pleiades' (Quasimodo, quoted in L.R. Smith (ed.), The New Italian Poetry: 1945 to the Present, Berkeley, Los Angeles & London, 1981, p. 12). Fontana would later write another inscription marking Quasimodo's death in his Concetto spaziale, Attesa of 1968 (68 T 134): 'Che silenzio di morte, pensando all'amico Quasimodo' (see Christie's King Street, 28 June 2000, lot 87).