Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT ITALIAN COLLECTION (LOTS 124 & 131)
Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)

Concetto spaziale, Attese

Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
Concetto spaziale, Attese
signed, titled and inscribed 'l. fontana "Concetto Spaziale" ATTESE Margherita! ti scrivo per dirti che ho saputo che me hai tradito…' (on the reverse)
waterpaint on canvas
28 7/8 x 23 5/8in. (73.5 x 60cm.)
Executed in 1965
Private Collection, Milan.
Waddington Custot Gallery, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2002.
E. Crispolti, Fontana. Catalogo generale, Milan 1986, vol. II, no. 65 T 137 (illustrated, p. 584).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana. Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, Milan 2006, vol. II, no. 65 T 137 (illustrated with wrong image, p. 769).
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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

A surface of pure, unblemished and seemingly unending monochrome
white is penetrated in the centre by a troupe of four balletic slashes
in Lucio Fontana’s serene and supremely elegant Concetto spaziale,
Attese of 1965. At this time, the colour, or indeed the ‘non-colour’,
white had become one of the most dominant aspects of Fontana’s
prolific oeuvre, its importance evidenced the following year, at the
1966 Venice Biennale, when the artist exhibited twenty white tagli.
Together, the combination of the vertical cuts slicing singularly and
irrevocably through the monochrome white canvas presented the
perfect and most complete embodiment of Fontana’s Spatialism,
the movement he founded in 1947, not only turning the canvas into a
three-dimensional object, but transforming it into an enigmatic portal
of discovery and potential, providing a glimpse into the unknown, and
the fourth dimension. Revelatory in its concept and infinitely poetic
in its appearance, Concetto spaziale, Attese immortalises the fleeting
moment of the gesture for eternity; a crystallisation of the artist’s
career-long formal and conceptual concerns.

It was with a piece of paper that Fontana first realised the artistic
potential of piercing through the physical surface of the artwork itself. In
1949, Fontana created a number of holes in a piece of card, inaugurating
his series of buchi. Realising the power of this gesture, Fontana moved
to canvas, puncturing this previously inviolable, fat surface, which had
served as the site of pictorial creation for centuries, and thereby opening
this sacred plane up to integrate the dynamic concepts of real time and
space into the artwork itself. The black chasms of seemingly unending
space that these holes revealed also served for Fontana as invocations
of the cosmos, revealing to the viewer a small yet powerful vision of
dark, boundless celestial space. Fontana later explained, ‘my creation
of holes was a radical gesture that shattered the space of the painting
and declared: after this, we are free to do as we like. We cannot close
the space of the picture within the limits of the canvas, for it must be
extended out to all the space around it’ (Fontana, quoted in D. Palazzoli,
‘Intervista con Lucio Fontana’, bt, no. 5, October-November 1967, in
Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., London, 2015, p. 212).

It was then, just under a decade later, that Fontana extended the
potential of this groundbreaking gesture by elongating his buchi so that
they became long, elegant vertical slashes. Over the previous years,
Fontana had experimented ceaselessly with a variety of materials and
ideas in his quest to create a work that would serve as the embodiment
of his Spatialist ideas. Working with an abundance of materials
in series such as the pietre or barocchi, in 1958, Fontana banished
ornamentation, embellishment and decoration and instead focused
solely on the gesture itself, beginning the series for which he would
become best known: the tagli. Unlike the gesturallity and physicality of
the buchi, the dramatic, singular gesture of the tagli resonated with an
elegant minimalism, serving as the embodiment of the artist’s formal
and theoretical concerns. ‘With the taglio’, Fontana stated, ‘I have
invented a formula that I think I cannot perfect…I succeeded in giving
those looking at my work a sense of spatial calm, a cosmic rigor, of
serenity with regard to the Infinite. Further than this I could not go’
(Fontana, quoted in P. Gottschaller, Lucio Fontana: The Artist’s Materials,
Los Angeles, 2012, p. 58).

While the four slashes, which dance like calligraphic marks across
a sheet of white paper, appear randomly deployed amidst the
monochrome canvas in Concetto spaziale, Attese, they were in fact
the result of a lengthy period of intense and deep contemplation by
Fontana. After he prepared the canvas, applying white monochrome
waterpaint with a brush, carefully ensuring that the surface remained
perfectly smooth, free of any brushstrokes or evidence
of the artist’s own hand, he then, with methodical care
and precision, slashed through the canvas from top to
bottom with a knife. The subtly varying lengths, angles
and positions of each of the slashes in Concetto spaziale,
Attese, and their rhythmic arrangement across the width of
the canvas demonstrates Fontana’s scrupulous attention to
detail and his extreme dedication to refining the minute details of his
technique. Describing his artistic process, Fontana stated, ‘I need a lot
of concentration. That means I don’t just walk into my studio take of
my jacket, and boom, I make three or four tagli. No, sometimes I leave
the canvas there propped up for weeks before I am sure what I will do
with it, and only when I feel certain do I begin, and it is rare that I waste
a canvas; I really need to feel in shape for doing these things’ (Fontana,
quoted in P. Gottschaller, ibid., p. 82). With this description of his
practice, Fontana dispelled any notion that his cuts were spontaneous,
unplanned actions, carried out without planning or thought. Indeed,
Fontana recalled an occasion when a visitor to his studio suggested
he too could create tagli, remembering, ‘A while ago a surgeon came to
visit me in my studio, and he told me that he was also very capable of
making “these holes”. I responded to him that I too can cut of a leg, but
I also know the patient will die of it. If he cuts it, however, it’s a different
situation. Fundamentally different’ (Fontana, quoted in P. Gottschaller,
ibid., p. 89).

Regarded as the result of this meticulous, near meditative practice, the
cut becomes more than simply a physical action enacted arbitrarily or
automatically upon the canvas, but a methodical, transcendent gesture
filled with meaning and potential. It is in this way that Fontana realised
his desire to transform the artwork from a material object into a spatial
concept, the feeting action of the cut forever immortalised and thus
eternal. ‘My cuts are above all a philosophical statement, an act of faith
in the infinite, an affirmation of spirituality’, Fontana declared in 1962.
‘When I sit down to contemplate one of my cuts, I sense all at once
an enlargement of the spirit, I feel like a man freed from the shackles
of matter, a man at one with the immensity of the present and of the
future’ (Fontana, quoted in L. Massimo Barbero, Lucio Fontana: Venice/
New York, exh. cat., Venice & New York, 2006-2007, p. 23).

For Fontana, the tagli came to serve as the purest distillation of his
Spatialist program, a perfect and complete visual incarnation of his
artistic aims. Since the early 1940s when he had been living and
working in Buenos Aires, Fontana desired an art form that would better
reflect the new age of scientific and technological discovery. At the
dawn of a new technological age, where particle physics and space
exploration had completely redefined man’s understanding of the
world and his place within it, Fontana realised that traditional forms of
artistic representation had little use and no meaning. Instead, 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 pervasive void of deep space. Faced with this reality,
Fontana called for artists to embrace this revolutionary, exciting age
and produce a new art entrenched in the extraordinary developments of
science and space travel. Writing in the Manifesto Blanco of 1946 – the
first of a series of Spatialist manifestos that Fontana would publish –
the artist declared: ‘We live in the mechanical age. Painted canvas and
upright plaster no longer have any reason to exist… Colour, the element
of space, sound, the element of time and movement which takes place
in time and in space, are the fundamental forms of the new art, which
contains the four dimensions of existence, time and space’ (Manifesto
Blanco, 1946 in E. Crispolti and R. Siligato, eds., Lucio Fontana, exh. cat.,
Rome, 1998, p. 115).

It was with the monochrome white surface of the canvas enabled him
to attain the sense of limitless, infinite, cosmic space that he wanted
to convey through his tagli. Having experimented with a range of
monochrome colours, it was white which most encapsulated the sense
of boundless, unfathomable space that Fontana sought to convey in
his work. White, he said, is the ‘purest colour, the least complicated,
the easiest to understand’, that which most immediately and most
successful attained a ‘pure simplicity’ and the ‘pure philosophy’ which
he sought to attain in the works of the last years of his life (Fontana,
quoted in E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana catalogo ragionato di sculture,
dipinti, ambientazioni, Tomo I, Milan, 2006, p. 79). While his artistic
contemporaries, Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani were exploring
the potential of white or indeed colourless canvases, seeking to return
art to a blank virginal state, a tabula rasa, for Fontana, the monochrome
canvas was not simply an empty receptacle, but was endowed, he
believed, with a transcendent, transformative potential, invoking an
infinite dimension.

The year after Fontana executed Concetto spaziale, Attese, he continued
to explore the visual potential of white in a critically acclaimed
installation at the XXXIII Venice Biennale, for which he was awarded
the Grand Prize of Painting. Created in collaboration with the architect
Carlo Scarpa, Fontana’s Ambiente Spaziale (Spatial Environment)
consisted of a luminous white labyrinthine room filled with twenty white
tagli, each with a single white slash. Fontana explained the impetus
behind his design: ‘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’ (Fontana, quoted in S. Whitfield, Lucio Fontana, exh.
cat., London, 1999, p. 200). In 1968, he created a similar maze-like
room for the ‘Documenta 4’ in Kassel, Germany, placing a single, large,
revelatory slash in a totally white room.

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