‘What we want to do is to unchain art from matter, to unchain the sense of the eternal from the preoccupation with the immortal. And we don’t care if a gesture, once performed, lives a moment or a millennium, since we are truly convinced that once performed it is eternal’ (First Spatialist Manifesto, 1947, reproduced in E. Crispolti et al. (eds.), Lucio Fontana, Milan 1998, pp. 117-118).
Standing at nearly a metre tall, Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale, Attese is an exquisite monochrome tagli, the pristine white canvas dramatically penetrated with three elegant vertical slashes. The three long gestural cuts that pierce the material surface of the canvas pin the work to the transformative act of its creation. Through this dramatic and revolutionary act the artist introduced a new spatial dimension to the canvas that paradoxically infused his work with a sense of the eternal. A pure and lyrical expression of the artist’s Spatialist theories, the minimal white canvas can be seen to inform the artist’s acclaimed installation the following year at the XXXIII Biennale di Venezia.
Writing in his Technical Manifesto of 1951 Lucio Fontana declared: ‘The discovery of new physical powers, the conquest of matter and space, gradually impose on man conditions which have never existed before the application of these discoveries to the various forms of life, brings about a substantial transformation in our way of thinking. The painted surface, the erected stone, no longer have a meaning’ (Technical Manifesto, J. van der Marck and E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, vol. I, Brussels 1974, p. 15). Fontana understood that the artist, like the scientist, had to compete with a vision of the world exclusively comprised of time, matter, energy and above all, the all-pervasive void of deep space. Faced with this reality Fontana reached for a dynamic solution, and in doing so employed his two most revolutionary innovations, the buchi and the tagli. Part painting, part sculpture, the buchi (‘holes’) and the tagli (‘cuts’) that came to define the artist’s career transformed the canvas into a three dimensional object that the artist considered eternal. For Fontana the buchi and the tagli that puncture the canvas, created a perpetual space that would continue to exist despite the passage of time, a tribute to the world of science post-Einstein. In this way, the mystical openings of the tagli visible in Concetto Spaziale, Attese invite the viewer to engage with the dark infinity beyond the picture plane, creating an almost transcendent experience.
In articulating this radical spatialist vision, Fontana found white to be the ‘purest, least complicated, most understandable colour [An embodiment of] ‘pure simplicity, ‘pure philosophy, ‘spatial philosophy, ‘cosmic philosophy (J. van der Marck and E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, vol. I, Brussels, 1974, p. 137). It is in this striking contrast, between the white of the surface and the darkness of the void, that Fontana’s Spatial concept finds its most lyrical expression. In Concetto Spaziale, Attese, we are entering the realm of the immaterial, that dimension whole-heartedly embraced by Yves Klein in his exhibition at the Iris Clert Gallery in April 1958. Klein conceived of an evacuated space, perfectly white in homage to the Void - a concept that resonated with Fontana’s minimalist language of the monochrome tagli.
The current work can be seen in some ways to prefigure Fontana’s Ambiente Spaziale, for which the artist was awarded the Grand Prize for Painting at the XXXIII Venice Biennale. This grand installation saw the artist taking his iconic tagli gesture to a new level of ambition. Created in collaboration with the architect Carlo Scarpa, Fontana envisaged a white, luminous maze, filled with examples of his tagli. As Fontana explained to Pierre Restany: ‘I wanted to create a ‘spatial environment, by which I mean an environmental structure, a preliminary journey in which the twenty slits would be as if in a labyrinth containing blanks of the same shape and colour’ (L. Fontana, quoted in S. Whitfield, Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., London, 1999, p. 200).
Fontana’s desire to create an art that remained relevant to the era of scientific discoveries in which he lived is evident in the gestures with which he created Concetto spaziale, Attese. For Fontana, in an age of space travel and quantum physics, the future of painting rested on art that transcended both time and space. Speaking about his intentions the artist declared, ‘what we want to do is to unchain art from matter, to unchain the sense of the eternal from the preoccupation with the immortal. And we don’t care if a gesture, once performed, lives a moment or a millennium, since we are truly convinced that once performed it is eternal’ (First Spatialist Manifesto, 1947, reproduced in E. Crispolti et al. (eds.), Lucio Fontana, Milan 1998, pp. 117-118). The slashes and the movements of the arm and the knife are themselves an artwork that exists not only in space, but also in time. It is at the very moment that Fontana undergoes the destructive act of cutting the canvas in Concetto Spaziale, Attese that he initiates a creative transformation, opening up the canvas into infinite space and the eternal.