Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
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Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)

Concetto spaziale

Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
Concetto spaziale
signed, titled and dated ‘l. fontana “concetto spaziale” 1953’ (on the reverse); signed ‘l. fontana’ (on a label with artist’s fnger print on the reverse)
oil and glass on canvas
23 5/8 x 28 ¾in. (60 x 73cm.)
Executed in 1953
Beatrice Monti della Corte Collection, Milan.
Private Collection (acquired from the above in the 1980s).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 21 June 2006, lot 13.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana. Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. I, Milan, 2006, no. 53 P 35 (illustrated, p. 263).
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Mariolina Bassetti
Mariolina Bassetti

Lot Essay

Against a pale backdrop, rough-hewn shards of red and pink glass
glitter like gems in Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, created in 1953.
This introduces an intriguing and complex play of light and colour
that is only accentuated by the contrast between the glimmer of the
protruding glass and the radiating trails of holes that punctuate the
surface. It was only a few years earlier that Fontana had begun to
experiment with adding glass to his perforated canvases, and in the
intervening time he had seldom turned to this variation, which called
the Pietre, or ‘Stones.’

It was in 1953, the year that Concetto spaziale was made, that Fontana
truly embraced this medium, creating a succession of elegant,
refined works. In Concetto spaziale, that elegance is emphasised
by the monochrome background, a factor that would become rarer
the following year, as Fontana experimented with adding oil paint
to the surface, introducing the swirls of impasto that would lead to
his Barocchi. In Concetto spaziale, a more refined baroque is evoked
through the pared-back presentation of holes and glass. It is a mark
of the quality of Concetto spaziale that it was formerly in the collection
of Beatrice Monti della Corte, the founder of the legendary Galleria
dell’Ariete in Milan, where a decade later Fontana would exhibit his
egg-shaped Fine di Dio series of paintings. Many of those celebrated
paintings contained similar juxtapositions of holes and additional
matter to the surface of Concetto spaziale, revealing the enduring
power of this innovation.

It was only four years before Concetto spaziale was made that Fontana
had begun to explore one of the innovations that was to become a
defining factor in his career, the ‘hole.’ At that point, Fontana had
already been long established as an artistic pioneer: born in 1899, he
had already risen to prominence as a sculptor in the decade before the
outbreak of the Second World War. Fontana had been born at the end
of the Nineteenth Century in Argentina, and when war engulfed Europe,
he returned to his native land for a number of years, exploring avant-garde
concepts while teaching in Buenos Aires. On returning to Italy, he
became the figurehead of Spazialismo, or Spatial Art.

While the works that arguably demonstrated his beliefs in finding
modern media for a new modern age were his architectural
installations, with looping spirals of fluorescent lighting and holes cut
into walls and ceilings, he also began to create his trailblazing paintings
such as Concetto spaziale. In these, he disrupted the traditional
concept of the picture plane, first by penetrating the surface and then
by adorning it with objects such as the glass shards that gleam so
vigorously here. While the holes allowed space to be incorporated
within the canvas, the use of the glass also allows Fontana to embrace
the fourth dimension: time. After all, there is a constant change in the
glimmer of reflected light and shadow that plays across the complex
surface of each fragment. This introduces an almost performative
aspect to Concetto spaziale, which shifts constantly according to its
environs. Even the viewer becomes a part of the appearance of the work,
reflected obliquely and in miniature in some of the tiny, irregular facets.
The picture will look different according not only to where it is placed,
but also by whom it is seen. In this way, Fontana is able to contrast the
eternal nature of space and of his inerasable gestures with the transience
of human existence, a factor that is only highlighted by the faint pink
glow of the canvas itself, which recalls the flesh visible in so many of the
martyred saints and long-dead heroes represented in the paintings and
frescoes of the art historical canon with which Italy is so rich.

Fontana’s introduction of space into the picture surface marked a
manner of Copernican reversal of received wisdom. In this, Fontana
was exploring the new perspectives on the world being granted
by fight, as planes, helicopters and rockets became increasingly
an accepted fact of life. Granting a new understanding and vision
of a realm that we now see as three-dimensional, yet had hitherto
considered fat, Fontana’s opening of the picture surface was an
analogue to the novelty of aerial views. With the addition of the glass
fragments in Concetto spaziale, Fontana heightens the sense that we
are somehow looking upon some distant terrain, a notion reinforced by
the diagrammatic trails of holes, which follow undulating paths, rippling
and radiating. The sense of movement invoked by the glass is also
echoed in the composition, which recalls Futurist attempts to capture
a sense of motion, for instance Giacomo Balla’s studies of swallows
flying. Like Balla, Fontana is harnessing a poetic transformation of the
visual language of science and of engineering. Yet at the same time,
the faint pink hue of the canvas and the glimmer of the glass both
recall heavily-adorned reliquaries and the ornate interiors of baroque
churches. In this way, Fontana is able to appropriate and disrupt an
established aesthetic tradition in order to emphasise the modernity
of his own vision. While this is expressed through an elegant and
eloquent restraint in Concetto spaziale, a similar arsenal would be used
just under a decade later in the famous Venezia series of paintings
that Fontana created in 1961, in which holes and glass were placed on
canvases that were often decorated with thick, elaborately-worked oils,
often featuring a metallic sheen.

As in the Venezia series which was the spiritual heir of Concetto
spaziale and its sister works, this painting uses the glass for a number
of purposes. Introducing a form of ever-changing light-source into the
surface of the picture, Concetto spaziale echoes on a smaller scale
the vast architectural installations that Fontana was creating during
the same period such as those for the 31st Milan Trade Fair which
took place the same year, for instance the ceiling of the cinema in
the Breda pavilion, which featured striations of perforations. Fontana
at this point found himself at the cutting edge, introducing a new
aesthetic to a world that had only recently been in the turmoil of a war
which had seen technology pushed to incredible new scopes, from the
improvements in fight to the horrors and wonders of nuclear science.
It was only too apt that Fontana sought to express himself using new
media such as glass—its reflective surface and coloured glow echoing
the lights and buttons of control panels, hinting at the imminent Space
Age. In Concetto spaziale, this element is located upon a monochrome
canvas, resulting in an engaging fusion between the old and the new,
between tradition and innovation.

Intriguingly, Fontana relied on a highly-traditional industry for the glass that he used in his Pietre. These fragments appear to have been sent to Fontana in bulk deliveries from foundries in Murano, the Venetian island considered one of the great centres of glass-making. These fragments would otherwise have been discarded, leftovers from the glass-making process, but now found themselves incorporated into his paintings, granted a new lease of life, a resurrection. As documented by Pia Gottschaller, decades after his death Fontana’s studio still contained masses of nuggets of coloured glass, a legacy of the creative process in making his Pietre (see P. Gottschaller, Lucio Fontana: The Artist’s Materials, Los Angeles, 2012, pp. 37-38).

Concetto spaziale was formerly in the collection of Beatrice Monti della Corte, a renowned Italian gallerist and patron of the arts. The retreat that she and her writer husband, Gregor von Rezzori, created in Tuscany saw writers such as John Banville, Bernardo Bertolucci, Robert Hughes and Michael Ondaatje staying there during their lifetimes; since then, fellowships have been awarded to other authors including John Banville, Lawrence Osborne, Zadie Smith and Colm Tóibín. While the Galleria dell’Ariete which Monti helped found and direct was only seldom the venue for exhibitions of Fontana’s work, one of the exceptions being the Fine di Dio series a decade after Concetto spaziale was created, the artist was nonetheless a regular visitor. Indeed, Monti would herself
recall, in an interview in Domus published in 1963, that Fontana was one of her invaluable supporters. ‘Fontana has always bought very many paintings, even by painters who were completely unknown at the time,’ she recalled. ‘This was very encouraging. And selling to him is a real pleasure, because he is always enthusiastic, ready to interest himself in everything’ (Beatrice Monti, quoted in ‘I mercanti d’arte’, Domus, No. 398, January 1963, p. 29). This enthusiasm was clearly reciprocated, as Monti owned several impressive works by Fontana, from a much exhibited 1934 sculpture to an oil from the 1960s.

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