LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more
LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)

Concetto Spaziale, New York 3

LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)
Concetto Spaziale, New York 3
incised wiith the artist's signature 'l. fontana' (lower right)
22 7/8 x 22 7/8in. (58 x 58cm.)
Executed in 1962
Private Collection, Milan.
Galleria il Punto, Turin.
Galleria dell'Ariete, Milan.
Private Collection (acquired directly from the above in the 1960s).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 29 June 2011, lot 69.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Leader, no. 1, December 1963 (illustrated p. 94).
S. Takiguchi, ‘Fontana, Arte Contemporanea,’ in Misuzu, 1964, no. 25, 1964 (illustrated pp. 48-49).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogue raisonné des peintures, sculptures et environnements spatiaux, vol. II, Brussels 1974, p. 122, no. 62 ME 11 (illustrated, p. 123).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogue generale, vol. II, Milan 1986, no. 62 ME 11 (illustrated, p. 411).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogue ragionata di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. II, Milan 2006, no. 62 ME 11 (illustrated, p. 598).
Milan, Galleria dell’Ariete, L. Fontana, New York, 1962, no. 9.
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Lucio Fontana, 1972, no. 167 (illustrated, p. 217).
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Lot Essay

‘New York is more beautiful than Venice!!
The skyscrapers of glass look like great cascades of water
That fall from the sky!!
At night it is a huge necklace of rubies, sapphires, and emeralds’ (L. Fontana, quoted in L. Massimo Barbero, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2006, p. 37).

‘New York is a city made of glass colossi on which the Sun beats down causing torrents of light’ (L. Fontana, quoted in L. Massimo Barbero, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2006, p. 43).

Through its dynamic expanse of Lucio Fontana’s signature tagli or ‘cuts’, Concetto Spaziale, New York 3, elegantly encapsulates ‘Spatialist’ concerns. A play of light and shadow, the tagli enable light to pass through the spaces created by the artist’s gesture and the malleability of the reflective copper allows light and shadow to proliferate across the warm expanse of the surface. Executed in 1962, Concetto Spaziale, New York 3 is distinguished as belonging to the first group of Metalli the artist conceived following his first and only trip to New York and indeed America; the great city’s influence on the series is noted by Fontana’s decision to include it in the title of these works. 1962 was a critical moment in Fontana’s artistic career, a time when the artist was perfecting his practice through experiments in media across a range of surfaces and gestures including torn canvas, glass, glitter, neon and clay. The present work was conceived immediately prior to Fontana’s celebrated Fine di Dio series of oval-shaped oil paintings made between March 1963 and February 1964. These works, rendered in highly textural oil paint known as the Olii, along with his Metalli, can in many ways be considered the culmination of his spatial experiments.

Fontana arrived in New York in 1961 at the behest of Philip Johnson, the Museum of Modern Art’s Director of Architecture, following its acquisition of two tagli paintings by the artist. While in New York, Fontana had an immensely successful show at Martha Jackson Gallery where he exhibited his Venice cycle of Olii. The show was attended by many of the leading exponents of the American art scene, including members of the New York School, and it is without a doubt that during this trip Fontana saw the works of this Abstract Expressionist group first-hand, likely including Barnett Newman’s Onement I, 1948, presently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. It was in New York City that Fontana became artistically inspired by the possibilities of the man-made artifice of the city to embody a possible futuristic urban Utopia. The striking architecture of New York, epitomized by the sparkling skyline of glass and metal sky-scrapers had a profound effect upon the Italian artist. Fontana wrote of his impressions of the Seagram Building: ‘I went to the top floor of the most famous of the skyscrapers...the one made of bronze and gilded glass... It seemed to contain the sun...’ (L. Fontana, quoted in L. Massimo Barbero, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2006, p. 42). His swift and precise drawings of the skyscrapers made while in New York would go on to inspire and inform his Metalli, where he articulated the reflective metallic field with gauged holes and slashes.

Upon returning to Europe from his artistically fruitful trip to New York, Fontana began an intense period of investigation centred on a re-engagement with his ‘Spatialist’ concept, and his tagli specifically, taking the series to new conceptual frontiers. New York, 1961, evidences his attempts to capture the sights, sounds, and dynamism of the city in the medium of oil and collage—the metallic paints utilized were an extension of the materials he had previously been working with in his Venice series. He concluded, however, that they were not capable of distilling the dynamism of the emblematic technological advances of the city’s landscape. He soon realized that the only way to accurately represent this city of the future was through the materials of its very fabric, the metallic sheets which made up the awe-inducing skyscrapers. ‘How was I to paint this terrible New York? I asked myself? Then all of a sudden I had an intuition: I took some sheets of shiny metal and set to work, sometimes scratching them vertically to convey the idea of sky-scrapers, sometimes puncturing them with a metal punch, sometimes flexing them to suggest dramatic skies, sometimes reflecting them in a piece of colored tin-foil to obtain the effect of neon lights… ’ (L. Fontana, quoted in L. Massimo Barbero, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2006, p. 45). After experimentation with aluminium and brass, copper became the principal metal employed in the New York series on account of its comparable malleability, lustrous colour and capacity to reflect light and forms into auratic fragmentation. Fontana particularly appreciated its strength and resilience in the presence of the multiple facets and fissures, as eloquently expressed in Concetto Spaziale, New York 3, necessary to achieve reflections and shadows throughout the sheet. As such, Fontana’s engagement with the city and its art and architecture served to inform his own, helping to refine his aesthetic and push it to new heights upon his return to Europe.

Light is fundamental to the Metalli series: light travels through space, is immaterial, but crucially also defines space, illuminating the bounds and contents of our material world. In this way, Concetto Spaziale, New York 3 is a work that occupies, defines and defies space, while at the same time reflecting the artist’s own ‘Spatialist’ concerns. The metal also embodies a futuristic aesthetic, its gleaming surface both mirrors the art of the rocket age and acts as a minimalist evocation of Manhattan itself. The metallic surfaces succeed in capturing the refracted light and reflections off the glistening skyscrapers and as Fontana noted, ‘no other material so successfully captures the sense of this Metropolis made all of glass, of windowpanes, orgies of light and the dazzle of metal’ (L. Fontana, quoted in L. Massimo Barbero, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2006, p. 45). Through their architectural inspiration, Fontana’s Metalli, pioneer a unique form of hanging sculpture or even architecture, which undoubtedly finds precedent in his own early artistic training as a sculptor. With his Metalli, however, he re-conceived the media, bringing about revolutionary effects through expanses of monochromatic metallic surface. Indeed, the more textured quality of the surfaces inherent in the very materiality of the Metalli series allows Fontana’s theory to take on a more spiritual aspect, connecting it with the Abstract Expressionist’s notion of establishing a new foundation for man in art.

This reduction of surface to its expression of the most fundamental aspects of its own materiality through the gesture, elevates colour and light to their highest elemental power, conceptually paralleling the quest for a religious sublimity of the Abstract Expressionists, as epitomized in Barnett Newman’s Onement I. The reductive qualities of the gesture, and the surfaces ability to both embody and emit light in Concetto spaziale, New York 3, ties the present work inextricably to these cosmological experiments and allows the artist to re-address the philosophies inherent in the work of Abstract Expressionism, such as Newman’s ‘zip’ paintings of the same period, in his own terms. Like Newman’s Onement I, whose title suggests harmony and a Kabbalist notion of creation, the reflective surface of Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, New York 3 becomes a vast and absorbing expanse upon, and indeed through which, contemplation can occur.

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