LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)
LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)
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Un Folle Amore: The Agrati Collection
LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)

Concetto spaziale

LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)
Concetto spaziale
signed and dated ‘l. fontana 53’ (lower right); signed again, titled and dated again ‘“Concetto Spaziale” l. fontana 1953’ (on the reverse)
oil and glass on canvas
31 1/2 x 25 1/2 in. (80 x 65 cm.)
Executed in 1953. This work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Archivio Lucio Fontana, dated 21 November 1969.
Acquired directly from the artist by the late owner, 1967
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogue raisonné des peintures, sculptures et environnements spatiaux, vol. II, Brussels, 1974, pp. 31-32, no. 53 P 14 (illustrated).
E. Crispolti, Fontana, Catalogo generale, vol. I, Milan, 1986, p. 120, no. 53 P 14 (illustrated).
G. Celant, Madly in Love, The Luigi and Peppino Agrati Collection, Milan, 2002, pp. 30 and 378, no. 175 (illustrated).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. I, Milan, 2006, p. 258, no. 53 P 14 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

A perceptive harbinger of things to come, Lucio Fontana’s dynamic oeuvre clearly illustrates an artist who lived and created at the forefront of the twentieth century avant-garde. Drawing upon the global sense of displacement and change following the end of World War II, the Argentine visionary formulated a categorical shift in art practice that he termed ‘Spatialism’. Concetto Spaziale is a premier example of Fontana’s early work that champions the driving idea that would become his lifelong credo. Prioritizing space and action over traditional modes like painting and sculpture, the artist declared, “We live in the mechanical age. Painted canvas and upright plaster no longer have a reason to exist.” He instead suggested an artform “based on the unity of time and space” (L. Fontana, et al., Manifesto Blanco, Buenos Aires, 1946). His mature body of work focused on highlighting the sublimation of matter into energy as it exploded into space, and he became known for his spirited incursions into the very canvas itself. With a nod toward the ever-advancing technological realm and the promise of the space age, Fontana endeavored to push the art world out of the old habits and into a thrilling new future.

Realized on a black ground, Concetto Spaziale is a particularly energetic example of Fontana’s practice. Using thick, repeating applications of white paint, the artist creates a series of marks that extend outward from the center of the composition. This orderly progression of linear bands gives the impression of movement in space for an unknown element. Even the smeared, bluish area on the left side of the work shows a carefully-rendered echo of an expressive gesture. This attention to detail asks for a closer viewing and speaks to Fontana’s meticulous, almost meditative process. Though fully non-representational, the abstraction makes fleeting visual allusions to captured movement in works like the Futurist paintings of Giacomo Balla or the action photography of Eadweard Muybridge. These connections, however cursory, are important in their ability to illustrate the artist’s knack for exploring action on a painted surface in a manner at odds with the vigorous emotion of Abstract Expressionism or the comparatively subdued frozen moments of his figurative predecessors.

In an early manifesto, Fontana spoke to his need to embody the explosive actions of a world in the midst of change. He noted 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” (L. Fontana, et al., Second Spatial Manifesto, March 1948, reproduced in Lucio Fontana, exh. cat. Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, 1998, p. 118). In tandem with the optically-rich painted elements, Concetto Spaziale is also host to carefully arranged bits of Murano glass that march up the center of the work and create a backbone of sculptural elements. Their multifaceted surfaces extend into our space and change with the light of their environment. Paired with these protrusions, Fontana also pierced the surface of the work in orderly sprays of small holes that echo the repetitive nature of the paint. Puncturing the heretofore revered flat surface of the canvas, he introduced a striking connection between the painted plane and its surrounding space. Thus we see the artist working above, upon, and through the composition and asking us to more fully investigate its existence within the vibrant energy of the real world.

In the early 1950s, Fontana began to more actively address issues of space and surface with a series of works that revolved around key active elements. The pietre (stones) series of Concetto Spaziale (spatial concept) are festooned with bits of Murano glass that the artist acquired from the noted glass manufacturers near Venice as remnants and discards. Arranging them on the stretched canvas, he was able to create shadows, reflections, and sculptural qualities that changed depending on position and ambient light. Like archaic star maps, each work sets out a visual trajectory to be pored over by the viewer. In the buchi (holes) series, Fontana began his incursions into the picture plane that would eventually evolve into the tagli (cuts) compositions which more fully opened his work to an investigation of space. With these later constructions, a more uniform painted surface helped to emphasize the vacant expanse and its violent beginnings as the focal point of the work rather than the more traditional composition within the frame. “I do not want to make a painting,” explained Fontana. “I want to open up space” (L. Fontana, quoted in J. van der Marck and E. Crispolti, La Connaissance, Brussels, 1974, p. 7). The artist pushed and tore at artistic constraints in an effort to more fully explore the next progression of the artform.

Theorized by the artist as a way to confront the boundless promise of the space age while doing away with traditional modes of making art, the Concetto Spaziale was was an ebullient answer to the next evolution in creative thinking. Disrupting the picture plane with punctures, glass, heavy impasto, and his signature slash marks, Fontana brought focus to the three-dimensionality of the painted object and its surface. He noted, “I was born in Rosario de Santa Fe on Paraná river, my father was a good sculptor, I wanted to be a sculptor, I would have liked to be a painter, too, like my grandfather, but I realised that these specific art terms are not for me and I felt like a Spatial artist. That's exactly it. A butterfly in space excites my imagination: having freed myself from rhetoric, I lose myself in time and begin my holes.” (L. Fontana, quoted in “Pittori Che Scrivono. Antologia di Scritti e Disegni”, L. Sinisgalli, ed., Milan 1954). Positioning himself as a spatial artist allowed Fontana to more aptly explore the experience of an object and its relationship to the space surrounding the work. It is important to note that he had to first make the paintings he pierced, cut, and built upon, so his process involved the entire traditional process and then expanded outward in new directions.

Born in Argentina, Fontana moved to Italy with his family when he was young. He would make the journey back and forth from his home country to Milan and other Italian art centers several times throughout his life. Most notably, during World War II, he returned to Buenos Aires where he founded the Academia Altamira with artists Jorge Larco and Jorge Romero Brest. The three collaborated on Manifesto Blanco (1946) which began to lay out the theories and ideas that Fontana would eventually shape into the tenets for Spatialism. In five such manifestos between 1946 and 1952, the artist turned completely away from figuration and the prevailing trends of abstraction in favor of a less static, more all-encompassing experience. This was first seen upon Fontana’s return to Italy with Spatial Environment (1949), a temporary work that consisted of an amorphous form in a room illuminated only by neon light. Expanding on the ephemerality of this installation, Fontana began to champion work that embodied or alluded to the transition of matter into energy. In this way, Concetto Spaziale is a key example of the artist’s experiments with direct action on the picture plane and highlights his fervor and enthusiasm for leading the avant-garde out of the past.

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