LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)
LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)
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LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)

Concetto spaziale, Attesa

LUCIO FONTANA (1899-1968)
Concetto spaziale, Attesa
signed, titled and inscribed ‘l. Fontana “Concetto Spaziale” ATTESA oggi ho un forte mal di gola’ (on the reverse)
waterpaint on canvas
21 ¾ x 18 ¼in. (55.4 x 46.4cm.)
Executed in 1967
Galerie Françoise Mayer, Brussels.
Private Collection, Essen.
Private Collection, Krefeld and Dusseldorf.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007.
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana. Catalogue raisonné des peintures, sculptures et environnements spatiaux, vol. II, Brussels 1974, no. 67 T 106 (illustrated, p. 196).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana catalogo generale, vol. II, Milan 1986, no. 67 T 106 (illustrated, p. 673).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. II, Milan 2006, no. 67 T 106 (illustrated, p. 867).

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Claudia Schürch
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Lot Essay

A pure, lyrical vision of cosmic sublimity, Concetto spaziale, Attesa offers an elegant distillation of Lucio Fontana’s Spatialist philosophies. Upon a clean expanse of white canvas, a single vertical incision opens a portal to the unknown. Executed in 1967, and never before seen in public, the work encapsulates the pioneering mission of Fontana’s practice: to align art-making with the scientific and technological advancements of the Space Age. His tagli, or ‘cuts’, were the ultimate expression of this aim, their sweeping incisions inviting time, energy and light into the fibres of the canvas. Within this body of work, Fontana’s white single-cut works stand among his most refined, showcased in his landmark Spatial Environment (Ambiente Spaziale) at the 1966 Venice Biennale, and subsequently at Documenta 4 in 1968. Today, examples reside in institutions including the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Born in Argentina, Fontana originally trained as a sculptor, influenced by the work of artists such as Fausto Melotti and Constantin Brâncuși. As humankind delved deeper into the mysteries of the cosmos, however, he began to formulate a new purpose for art. Traditional forms of painting and sculpture, he believed, were static and earthbound. Science had shown that space was quite the opposite: fluid, formless and dimensionless. His Manifesto Blanco and Manifesto Spazialismo, published in 1946 and 1947 respectively, offered a call to arms for this revolutionary era. In 1949, Fontana put his Spatialist theories into action. Piercing the canvas with small holes, or buchi, he exposed new, unexplored territory. The artwork no longer existed on the surface, but rather in the space around, beyond and behind it. It was no longer a two-dimensional image, or a three-dimensional object, but rather an infinite zone of possibility, animated by the light that fell upon its incisions and the ripple of particles left in the wake of the knife. It was, in short, a ‘spatial concept’—a concetto spaziale.

The tagli evolved directly from the buchi. Begun in 1958, they would dominate Fontana’s practice until his death. Each was an act of profound ‘anticipation’ or ‘expectation’, as indicated by the word Attesa included in many of his titles. Standing before the canvas, knife in hand, he would wait patiently for the perfect moment to strike, performing single, sweeping gestures thatin that very instantunited matter and movement. Decades earlier, the Italian Futurists had proclaimed that ‘The gesture which we would reproduce on canvas shall no longer be a fixed moment in universal dynamism. It will be dynamic sensation itself’ (U. Boccioni et al., ‘Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto’, 1910 reproduced in C. Harrison and P. Wood (ed.), Art in Theory 1900-1990, Cambridge, 1993, p. 150). In the 1950s, Barnett Newman’s ‘zips’ had suggested that the canvas might part ways to reveal a world beyond. In his tagli, Fontana went one stage further: like the trail of a comet, or of a rocket launched into space, his perforated surfaces quite literally bear the scars of the moment that he stepped over painting’s threshold.

While Fontana worked in a variety of colours, white embodied the ‘“pure simplicity,” “pure philosophy,” “spatial philosophy,” and “cosmic philosophy” to which he more than ever aspired during the last years of his life’ (J. van der Marck and E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Vol. I, Brussels 1974, p. 137). Many of his disciples would similarly engage with its neutral properties: the ZERO artist Otto Piene wrote that white represented ‘a zone of silence and of pure possibilities for a new beginning’, while Piero Manzoni asserted that ‘Infinity is rigorously monochrome, or, better still, it has no colour’ (O. Piene, ‘The Development of the Group “Zero”’, The Times Literary Supplement, 3 September 1964, pp. 812–13; P. Manzoni, ‘Free Dimension’, Azimuth, No. 2, Milan, 1960). Staunchly non-representational and rigorously self-defined, Fontana’s white tagli may also be seen as important precursors to Minimalism, anticipating the work of artists such as Robert Ryman, Sol LeWitt and Dan Flavin. These new horizons gleam brightly in the present work, its elemental surface alive with possibility.

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