LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)
LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)
LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)
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LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)

Concetto Spaziale

LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)
Concetto Spaziale
signed ‘l. Fontana’ (lower right)
25 5/8 x 38 5/8in. (65 x 98cm.)
Executed in 1964-1965
Galerie XXe Siècle, Paris.
Pierre Janlet, Brussels (acquired from the above in 1965).
Thence by descent to the present owner.
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana. Catalogue raisonné des peintures, sculptures et environnements spatiaux, Brussels 1974, vol. II, no. 64-65 ME 3, p. 124 (illustrated, p. 125).
E. Crispolti, Fontana. Catalogo generale, Milan 1986, vol. II, no. 64-65 ME 3 (illustrated, p. 421).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana. Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, Milan 2006, vol. II, no. 64-65 ME 3 (illustrated, p. 607).
Paris, Galerie XXe Siècle, Fontana, Concetti spaziali 1950-1964, 1965.
Special notice
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. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Lot Essay

Held in the same private collection since 1965, and unseen in public during that time, Concetto Spaziale (1964-1965) is a scintillating work from Lucio Fontana’s iconic series of Metalli (Metals). Fontana made these radical compositions in aluminium, brass and copper following his first visit to New York in 1961. The city struck him as a beacon of futurity, with its skyscrapers launching into the air like space-rockets, and its reflective surfaces, bright lights and frenetic energy seeming to capture the essence of the cosmos on earth. Fontana had slashed and punctured canvases throughout the previous decade, opening the picture plane to a new dimension in his quest for an art worthy of the ‘Spatial’ era. In the Metalli, he turned to sheets of mirror-polished metal. The present work’s aluminium is punched with four vertical rows of buchi (‘holes’), echoing the stacked windows of tall buildings, or a spacecraft’s skyward trajectory; each row’s buchi are differently sized, as if seen at varied distances. An oval scored round them recalls Fontana’s 1963-64 Fine di Dio cycle, whose wounded, egg-shaped canvases declared the death and rebirth of painting. The viewer, reflected in the shimmering surface, is pulled into the work in more ways than one.

By the time Fontana came to New York, he had explored a wide array of materials in his art. He had sculpted in clay, cast in bronze, made looping assemblies of neon tubing, and embellished his pierced canvases with oils, chalk, and glitter. In the summer of 1961, he had showed some of his most opulent works yet at Venice’s Palazzo Grassi: the Venezie. Composed of thick, metallic oil paint, whorled with his fingertips or jewelled with colourful fragments of Murano glass, these paintings evoked Venice’s rippling water, Baroque churches and Byzantine mosaics with rich, atmospheric majesty. The exhibition was a huge success, and led to an invitation from the American art dealer Martha Jackson to show the series at her Upper East Side gallery. Fontana flew to New York in November that year.

If Venice had inspired Fontana with the glories of its history, New York overwhelmed him as a vision of the future. It was the first time he had set foot in the United States. The Manhattan skyline seemed to physically realise modernity’s most soaring ambitions; solar radiance reverberated among its immense, shining structures, the buildings blazing like totems of a new technological age. ‘New York is more beautiful than Venice!!’, he wrote to friends back in Italy. ‘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, postcard to the Bardini family, 24 November 1961).

While in New York, Fontana made sketches and collages in an attempt to capture his impressions of the city. He quickly realised that a new medium would be necessary. Even the gold and silver oils of the Venezie seemed too static, too opaque. On his return to Milan, he hit upon a solution. ‘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 skyscrapers, sometimes puncturing them with a metal punch, sometimes flexing them to suggest dramatic skies … no other material so successfully captures the sense of this Metropolis made all of glass, of window panes, orgies of light, and the dazzle of metal’ (L. Fontana, quoted in L. M. Barbero, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, exh. cat. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2006, p. 45). The glinting metal also had suitably cosmic associations: works like the present might be seen to reflect the silver light of the moon, or the foiled hulls of satellites.

The gleaming façades and aerial thrust of New York’s skyscrapers are exhilarating even today. On Fontana’s visit, the environment was all the more astounding for its novelty. The Empire State, General Electric and Chrysler Buildings were just three decades old. He marvelled at Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building, completed in 1958, whose top floor, ‘made of bronze and gilded glass … seemed to contain the Sun’ (L. Fontana, quoted in ibid., p. 42). Fontana was not alone in his wonder. In 1964, the New York Times described the new lighting of the Empire State Building—at that time the world’s tallest freestanding structure—in images of sci-fi splendour. The upper thirty floors were to be lit up at night, ‘crowning it with a solid block of white light … “like a chandelier suspended from the sky,” one of the building’s admirers remarked … The 86th and 87th floors—the observation deck and the Telstar tracking station—will be left in darkness, looking like a black ribbon tied around a block of ice’ (J. Lelyveld, ‘The Empire State to Glow at Night’, The New York Times, 23 February 1964, p. 63). The floodlights, the article noted, had originally been designed to illuminate missile blast-off pads.

Beyond their physical dialogue with the city, works like Concetto Spaziale can be seen in the context of an artistic tendency that was emerging in mid-1960s New York: Minimalism. Artists like Donald Judd and Dan Flavin—whose sculptures and neon works, respectively, were both first shown in New York in 1964—learnt much from Fontana’s use of real space and light, and his rejection of picture-plane illusionism. If Concetto Spaziale’s sense of urban velocity extends the ideas of Italian Futurist painting, its iterated composition and hard, metallic objecthood also relate to such Minimalist formats as Judd’s boxes and ‘stacks’. ‘Half or more of the best new work in the last few years’, Judd declared in 1965, ‘has been neither painting nor sculpture. Usually it has been related, closely or distantly, to one or the other … The use of three dimensions is an obvious alternative. It opens to anything … Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface’ (D. Judd, ‘Specific Objects’, Arts Yearbook 8, 1965).

In Concetto Spaziale, importantly, space enters the work in the form of reflection. While the buchi plunge into dark infinity, its quicksilver finish is activated by—and comes to visually contain—the dynamic space, light and movement around it. It is this transcending of the surface, a breaking open of the skin, that truly defined Fontana’s project. As early as 1948, he had declared that ‘today, we spatial artists have escaped from the cities, we have shattered our shell, our physical crust, and we have looked at ourselves from above, photographing the earth from rockets in flight’ (Second Spatial Manifesto, March 1948, reproduced in Lucio Fontana, exh. cat. Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, 1998, p. 118). Ultimately, the grandeurs of Venice and New York alike—indeed, all of earthbound human endeavour—were to be left behind as mankind launched into the eternity of Spatialism. The Metalli celebrate the warp-speed brilliance of the modern metropolis, but they also gesture towards a sublime, unknowable future.

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