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

Concetto spaziale, Attese

Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
Concetto spaziale, Attese
signed, titled and inscribed 'l. Fontana “Concetto Spaziale” ATTESE Se domani c’è il sole vado a Varese a trovare arturo' (on the reverse)
waterpaint on canvas
28 7/8 x 23 ¾ in. (73.3 x 60.2 cm.)
Executed in 1965-1966.
Svensk Franska Konstgalleriet, Stockholm
G. Von Platen, Stockholm
Anon. sale; Christie's, London, 28 June 1990, lot 458
Private collection, London
Anon. sale; Sotheby’s, London, 21 October 1999, lot 27
Acquired at the above by the present owner
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. II, Milan, 2006, p. 821, no. 65-66 T 22 (illustrated).
Tokyo, Art Point Contemporary, Lucio Fontana, 1991, no. 11 (illustrated in color).

Brought to you by

Joanna Szymkowiak
Joanna Szymkowiak

Lot Essay

The unrivaled elegance of the incisions cut into the surface of Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, Attese have made them among the most iconic marks of postwar art. Here, a trio of parallel lines traverses down the surface of the support, piercing the sanctity of the canvas, and forever changing the parameters of painting. Cut into a canvas of sumptuous red with the seductive quality which recalls the evocative forms of the Baroque sculptor Bernini, these openings are not destructive slashes or cuts, instead they are Fontana’s response to the question that has obsessed every artist through the generations; how can art improve on what has gone before and continue to be relevant to the age in which it was created? Fontana’s solution was to move away from using the canvas merely as a support for the medium of paint and instead incorporate it fully into the body of the work, thus opening up, both literally and figuratively, a whole new dimension of possibilities to further advance the course of art.

As the founder of the post-war Spatialist movement, Fontana was concerned with releasing artists from what he saw as the stifling traditions of academic art history. As the space age dawned, the artist wanted to create art for a new era; art that would show the real space of the world. His solution was to break through the surface of the canvas and for the first time introduce a third dimension into the world of painting. Like portals to another dimension his incisions began to explore a hitherto unexplored world akin to the unchartered territories of the cosmos. Concetto spaziale, Attese is a perfect evocation of Fontana’s objectives with its delicate cuts echoing the vastness of the universe. Behind each one lies the darkness of an infinite space, full of possibilities and mystery. With deliberate and careful flicks of his wrist, Fontana produces elegant incisions which literally open the canvas to new possibilities and interpretations. Enforcing the three-dimensional nature of the canvas, Fontana brings his earlier incarnation as a sculptor to the practice of painting, combining its different processes to forge a hybrid object that is no longer constrained by traditional classifications.

The importance of Fontana’s background as a sculptor is clear in his decision to transform the canvas from a two-dimensional surface into a three-dimensional object. Furthermore, with his Concetto spaziale, Attese he is not only transforming the canvas but in addition, Fontana incorporates the physical act of cutting into the work so it becomes an important part of the artistic process. These two tangible forces come to be the artist’s medium and support, and the graceful gesture becomes his equivalent of using the brush on the surface of the canvas. There is a degree of beauty in the precision with which Fontana arrives at the results; no mess, no hesitation, just cool, controlled movement produced with scientific clarity. The cleanliness of the act brings about an almost religious purity.

The refinement of Concetto spaziale, Attese was achieved by overcoming a number of creative challenges. Fontana spent a significant amount of time and effort to find the specific combination of canvas, primer, paint and timing that would produce the exacting quality he was after. His greatest test was to find a way of cutting the canvas without compromising its tension and overall flatness. Eventually he developed a system that included treating the reverse so that it guaranteed a certain level of resilience and stiffness, while on the front he applied several layers of water-based house paint, with drying periods in between the layers so that no trace of a brush mark was left visible. In the present work, the paint itself is a layer of red with visual impact. While the canvas was still partially wet, he dragged a sharp blade swiftly through the fabric. The support then firmed and dried out with time, the cuts having been eased apart with the flat of the artist’s hand. One of Fontana’s close friends described this process as a ‘caress,’ the artist tenderly working on the canvas and physically engaging it to gently open each furl. These openings created a conduit for light to pass through the painting’s surface, but Fontana has deliberately sealed the back with black tape in order to emphasize the sense of space and infinity lurking beyond.

Many of Fontana’s ‘cut’ paintings include a personal inscription on the reverse, often denoting a particular thought or activity that was pertinent to the artist that day. On the reverse of this particular Concetto spaziale, Attese, Fontana has written “Attese/domani c’e il sole e vado a Varese a trovare Arturo,which translates as “tomorrow is sunny and I go to Varese to find Arturo.” The Arturo in question is Arturo Schwarz, the Italian scholar, art historian, poet and writer. He was an expert on Dada and Surrealist art, and the author of many books on Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, including The Complete Works of Marcel Duhcamp published in 1969.

Fontana’s sublimely beautiful Concetto spaziale, Attese is a triumphal exploration of the totality of artistic practice. In Fontana’s skilled hands, the canvas is opened up to extraordinary new depths of meaning and beauty. There are no distractions; instead Fontana has given us something that is emphatic, lending it a palpable sense of honesty and truth. The holistic nature of this luxurious red canvas succeeds in demonstrating the timeless beauty of art, fulfilling the dreams that Fontana had prophesied nearly two decades earlier when he laid the foundations for the Spatialist Movement. As he said at the time, “Art is eternal, but it cannot be immortal,” the First Spatial Manifesto had declared, “We plan to separate art from matter, to separate the sense of the eternal from the concern with the immortal. And it doesn’t matter to us if a gesture, once accomplished, lives for a second or a millennium, for we are convinced that, having accomplished it, it is eternal” (L. Fontana, quoted by G. Kaisserlian, B. Joppolo, M. Milani, reproduced in E. Crispolti & R. Siligato (ed.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., 1998, pp. 117-18).

More from Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

View All
View All