Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
This lot will be sold under the Alpha scheme. If … Read more LUCIO FONTANA & PIERO MANZONI It is fair to say that in the late 1950s and early 1960s, two Italian artists both living in Milan, Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni, completely transformed the landscape of art. Fontana was in his early 60s and had lived an incredibly colourful and busy life since his return from Argentina in the late 1940s; Manzoni, meanwhile was the young gun in his late twenties, bursting with energy, ideas and challenging artistic convention. Separated by a generation, each found a new way of defining the importance of art, alongside their friend and contemporary Yves Klein in Paris: they all helped take the emphasis away from the image and towards the idea and its marriage with the vision and execution of the material. This was the dawn of conceptual art and Fontana and Manzoni were at its forefront. They would blaze a trail which would inspire, amongst others, Warhol, Koons, Hirst and Gursky, redefining art in the late 20th Century and beyond. These works date from this extraordinary moment and epitomise the pinnacle of each artist's ambitions for a work of art. Fontana's golden Concetto spaziale executed in 1961, just prior to the series that came to define him, the Venezia cycle. Here, the Immaterial enshrined within the incision is matched by the sumptuous materiality of the gold paint. Fontana's Venezia works, which were inspired by the golden sunlight and atmosphere of Venice, used metallic paint applied in thick and gestural bursts to canvases which were punctured or cut. The use of otherworldly colours like gold and silver, which have for centuries provided a mysterious aversion to chromatic definition with the way they reflect light and change in their environment, chimed with the penetration of the canvas to create a new sense of the infinite in art. This philosophy can clearly be seen in Concetto spaziale: its gorgeous application of thick gold paint has been lovingly massaged by the fingers to create graceful arcs which swirl around the central incision which cuts vertically down the composition. On the one hand, Fontana invokes the sense of reaching the infinite, on the other he explores the concept of breaking through these perfect golden forms. Executed in 1958-59, Manzoni's stunning Achrome is a magnificent example of the series which came to define him as an artist. Filled with extraordinary sculptural shapes in its rich folds, this is the epitome of a work which evinces universal associations, even from the most refined means. Here, Manzoni takes a colour which has no colour, which is achromatic: white. Manzoni wanted to empty art of all association other than itself: 'A surface completely white (integrally colourless and neutral) far beyond any pictorial phenomenon or any intervention extraneous to the value of the surface. A white that is not a polar landscape, not a material in evolution or a beautiful material, not a sensation or a symbol or anything else just a white surface that is simply a white surface and nothing else (a colourless surface that is just a colourless surface). Better than that: a surface that simply is: to be (to be complete and become pure).' From this point, he applies kaolin to the canvas and allows the form to take its most natural shape, without intervention from the artist. At the time, this represented a total rejection of the cult of the artist, with the modernist adoration of the artist's hand, of brushstrokes and direct carving as the revered means of creating the most extraordinary things. Instead, Manzoni was accentuating the beauty of nature beyond the ability of the artist's hand. It is all the more surprising that, through his manipulation of gravity and the nature of the material, Manzoni produced in this work an extraordinarily sculptural form, here preserved so perfectly in the variegated surface, which stands comparison with Bernini's most voluptuous depictions of cloth. It is a sad fact that soon after Manzoni created this work he tragically died at the age of 29. Fontana outlived him, dying in 1968, but continued to set new standards for this extraordinary art, which the two of them had so sensationally introduced. This is encapsulated in Concetto Spaziale, Attesa: created by Fontana in 1964, a year after Manzoni's death, this is perhaps the ultimate depiction of the spirit which they introduced. A single cut incised into a pure white canvas which finds perfect sculptural form and elegance in proportion with the canvas, yet which penetrates to create a dimension beyond. It represents the most Minimalist human gesture of intervention into the artwork but is the most succinct and sublime epitome of Spatialism. PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)

Concetto spaziale, Attesa

Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
Concetto spaziale, Attesa
signed, titled and inscribed 'l. fontana/Concetto Spaziale/ATTESA 1 + 1 - 9999 /Quando/di maggio/le ciliege/son mature/con che piacer/si fa all'/amor...' (on the reverse)
waterpaint on canvas
45¾ x 31 7/8in. (116 x 81cm.)
Executed in 1964
Galleria Christian Stein, Turin.
Maximilian Stein, Turin.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: catalogo generale, vol. II, Milan 1986, no. 64 T 108 (illustrated, p. 537).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. II, Milan 2006, no. 64 T 108 (illustrated, p. 723).
Turin, Galleria Christian Stein, Lucio Fontana: Ceramiche e tagli, 1972.
Rivoli, Castello di Rivoli, Piano nobile, 1989.
Villeurbanne, Le Nouveau Musée/Institut d'Art Contemporain, La collection Mme Christian Stein: un regard sur trente années d'art italien, 1992 (illustrated in colour, p. 25). This exhibition later travelled to Toulouse, Centre d'art contemporain de Labèges.
Special notice
This lot will be sold under the Alpha scheme. If you are an EU Purchaser, there is effectively no change: VAT is charged at 20% on the buyer's premium ONLY on a VAT inclusive basis. VAT is accounted for under the auctioneer's margin scheme. If you are a non-EU Purchaser: VAT, at 20%, will be payable on both the hammer price and the buyer's premium. VAT on the hammer will be refunded upon receipt of export documentation by the VAT department. Non-EU trading businesses can receive a further VAT refund on the buyer's premium directly from HM Revenue and Customs.

Brought to you by

Client Service
Client Service

Lot Essay

On to a pristine large white canvas, Fontana's only intervention is a perfect vertical linear cut that penetrates the serene perfection of the canvas. Of unusually beautiful proportions for this series, the cut sits perfectly within the central vertical axis to create a sublime poetry of form. The white painted surface and central incision of Concetto spaziale, Attesa instil this work with a sense of pristine order. The absence of colour appears as a kind of zero point or lacuna, a blank slate on which to launch a new beginning. It also serves to reduce the physical presence of the rectangular plane so the surgically precise slit emerges with greater dramatic force. Light, a kind of moving energy, is not only able to bounce off the reflective surface but also, in theory, to pass through it into the shadowy abyss behind (in theory only, as to heighten the effect and to lend the cut a sense of the void, it is in fact backed with black tape).

Spare, elegant and immediate, Lucio Fontana's Concetto spaziale, Attesa of 1964 is a striking example of his ambition to immortalise a fleeting moment for eternity. The large white canvas has been cut apart by the long downward stroke of Fontana's razor-sharp blade, a spontaneous action that almost always came in an unexpected instant after days or weeks of pondering a painted surface. The emphatic simplicity of this single clean-cut slash belies the artist's profound consideration of abstract concepts surrounding nature, matter and existence. The Concetto spaziale, Attese (Spatial Concept: Expectations) series were so-named because Fontana felt they were the inception of a new kind of creative expression and a type of art form that was yet to arrive.

His work was deeply inspired by the fantasy of space travel, which was fast becoming a reality for the world's major powers. Fontana proposed that the advent of man's ability to escape the stratosphere would have major consequences for the traditional notion of the art object and the conventional, humanist model of the self. In practical terms, his radical solution to the problems demanded by this new age were the hole and the cut (the buchi and the tagli) - two dynamic gestural and penetrative acts made on the canvas that infused its flat two-dimensional faade with real space.

Cutting through the canvas membrane completely transforms painting's physical and symbolic form. Fontana's contemporary critics frequently interpreted this process as a violent and destructive act, or as a gibe at the gesturalism of post-painterly abstraction, but the Argentine-Italian artist defended his work as a creative exploration of intangible phenomena. His holes and slashes were not an attack on art, but were instead the opening of a door into new realms of artistic discovery. In 1954 Fontana argued that, 'Sculpture and painting are both things of the past... We need a new form. Art that's movement. Art within space' (Fontana, quoted in A. White, 'Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch', Grey Room, no. 5, Autumn, 2001, p. 56).

Fontana's desire to invade space with dynamic movement recalls Italian pre-war attempts to depict movement through painting. His radical cutting gesture may be seen as a radical progression upon one of the first Futurist manifesto's proud declarations: 'The gesture which we would reproduce on canvas shall no longer be a fixed moment in universal dynamism. It will be dynamic sensation itself' (U. Boccioni et al., 'Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto', 1910 reproduced in C. Harrison and P. Wood (ed.), Art in Theory 1900-1990, Cambridge, 1993,p. 150). But instead of creating a representation of dynamic movement through time and space, Fontana enacted it, leaving the slash mark and the hole as its trace. In that simple action, he opened up the redundant surface of the canvas to a realm of new possibilities. Even though the fabric stands as the material evidence of the opening up of space, it is almost incidental, and is arguably secondary to the space itself. The definition of Concetto spaziale, Attesa therefore lies outside the painting's appearance - it is the physical gesture of cutting that is the 'spatial concept', not the cut itself. In this way, Fontana disregarded conventional production techniques to establish a radically new visual language that introduced the concept of immateriality in art. Explaining his ambition to go beyond the apparent certainty of tangible substances, the artist stated: 'As a painter, while working on one of my perforated canvases, I do not want to make a painting: I want to open up space, create a new dimension for art, tie in with the cosmos as it endlessly expands beyond the confining plane of the picture' (Fontana, quoted in J. van der Marck and E. Crispolti, La Connaissance, Brussels 1974, p. 7).

The sharp, vertical incision to Concetto spaziale, Attesa shouts from the canvas like an exclamation mark as a definitive and iconographic image of Fontana's Spatialist theories. The importance of the gesture lies in its expression of the enveloping abyss and its ability to lend form to the invisible. The cut, as a testimony to Fontana's physical action, is likewise an assertion of his active place in the world, however insignificant it might seem in the vastness of the universe. With a single knife strike, he has explored the conundrum that to represent 'Nothing', we must either imagine it or conceive it, therefore bringing about an awareness of being. Just as Fontana has converted a seemingly destructive act into one of creation, so too has he proved that contemplation of nothingness can provide a great wellspring of artistic inspiration.

More from Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction

View All
View All