'Gold is beautiful like the sun' (Lucio Fontana, inscription on reverse of Concetto spaziale, 1964 (64 O 11).
A sumptuous symphony in gold, Concetto spaziale is an outstanding example of Fontana's breakthrough series of Olii, named for their thick, sculpted painterly surface, which includes the landmark Venezia paintings of the same year, the cycle which has defined him as an artist. Indeed, the composition and approach of Concetto spaziale is very similar to that of Concetto spaziale, Venezia era tutta d'oro, now in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Executed in 1961, the year that Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, the use of a thickly applied golden paint conceptually links the work to a sense of the infinite, a colour which is impossible to pin down. Its complex play of light is made all the more sensual by the arcing grooves that articulate its surface. With its dynamic, sweeping and swirling gestures which appear to be applied by hand - lavishing in the material - this implication is further heightened by the dramatic interruption of one single, sublime vertical cut which pierces the perfection of the surface and breaks through to the space beyond. Grasping the astounding advancement of man's relationship with his surroundings that these events were to create and using the medium of metallic paint, which was a relatively new invention at the time, in this astonishing period of fertile creativity Fontana was creating an entirely new art with his compatriots Piero Manzoni and Yves Klein which would define much of the passage of the history of art since.
Aside from the launch into space, these years were highly important for the development of this new art which would prioritise concept over representation. The Space race had created a massive shift in perspective, a change in the understanding of Man's place in the Universe which became incredibly relevant in the post-war period. Man's awareness of the vastness of the Cosmos, and indeed of the Earth's position on the merest fringes of the Milky Way, was a new revelation that demanded attention just as Galileo's discoveries had centuries earlier. Like the Baroque artists before him, Fontana sought to create a religious art for this new technological age. 'God is invisible, God is incomprehensible, Fontana declared, explaining: 'this is why no artist today can depict God seated on a throne with the world in his hands and a beard... The religions, too, must adapt themselves to the state of science' (Fontana, quoted in B. Hess, Lucio Fontana 1899-1968: 'A New Fact in Sculpture', Cologne 2006, p. 68). By using gold, Fontana was referencing the religious art of the Baroque period, so much of which is visible in Venice, and also of the earlier Byzantine artists whose legacy remains in shimmering golden mosaics such as the Basilica di San Marco and the church of Torcello. And at the same time, he was creating a gleaming, metallic vision of the splendour of the cosmos, a magnificent abstract reliquary that celebrates the sliver of pure space that lies at its heart.
If each of these pioneers of Conceptual and Minimalist art, Fontana, Manzoni and Klein, were embracing the history of the Monochrome as an aspect of their artistic investigations, they were all doing it in different ways. Manzoni was removing the artistic hand from the process and celebrating the nature of the pure material with all exterior elements removed. Klein was using the monochrome as a visual metaphor for the Void and Fontana was adopting the Monochrome as a virgin space for experimentation into surface and texture, but most importantly the penetration through the surface to a further dimension.
Fontana was interested in space in terms both of the cosmos and of the third dimension. When he first pierced the surface of his pictures, he was emphasising their three-dimensionality and objecthood. At the same time, he was introducing the void into the realm of art, a notion that reached its elegant culmination in the slash of his Attese, or 'Expectations.' This is the same device that dominates Concetto spaziale, the legacy of a ballet-like movement with a razor, slicing open the two dimensional canvas. With this deceptively simple act, Fontana introduced a new artistic perspective, viewing art from a new angle just as Gagarin had become the first man to view Earth from space through the window of his Vostok 1 capsule.
For Fontana, space was vital, but so too were the gestures, irreversible acts enshrined within the canvas, with which he sculpted it in his Concetti spaziali. In the Olii, Fontana's engagement with the rest of the surface and material enriches this process, taking it to a rich level beyond that of the incision alone. The sweeping curves that he has made in the rich gold paint of Concetto spaziale are traces of his movements, existential markers. At the same time, they serve a highly practical artistic purpose, allowing this reflective picture to introduce light-bending effects that serve as a microcosm of the architectural projects that he had overseen over the previous two decades. This means that Concetto spaziale is deliberately changeable, its appearance shifting like quicksilver according to its exposure to sunlight, electric light or indeed the movements and reflection of the viewers before it.