Standing among the last white single-cut paintings that Lucio Fontana ever produced, Concetto spaziale, Attesa is a pure and elegant summation of his life’s work. Executed shortly before his death in 1968, its single vertical incision splits apart the pristine white surface of the canvas, revealing a dark, mysterious void beyond. Fontana routinely inscribed his works with diary-like entries on the reverse: here, he refers to ‘building a wall around the lake’, perhaps alluding to the tranquil waters of Lake Camabbio visible from the window of his final studio, where he had taken up residence earlier that year. First initiated a decade earlier, Fontana’s tagli (‘cuts’) marked the culmination of his artistic enquiries, which—under the rubric of ‘Spatialism’—sought to match the pioneering spirit of the Space Age. As humankind opened up the cosmos, the artist prised apart the canvas to unveil the limitless, hitherto uncharted space beyond. With their proto-Minimalist beauty, Fontana’s white single-cut paintings stand among the cleanest expressions of his philosophies, showcased to extraordinary effect in his landmark installation Spatial Environment (Ambiente spaziale) at the 1966 Venice Biennale, and subsequently at Documenta 4 in 1968, the year of the present work. Today, examples reside in institutions including the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
Art is eternal as gesture”
As advancements in science, technology and space travel shook the world during the mid-twentieth century, Fontana proclaimed that art should evolve to echo the spirit of the times. In 1946, he and a group of artists in his native Argentina had signed the inaugural Manifesto Blanco, declaring that ‘painted canvas and upright plaster no longer have a reason to exist’, and proposing an art ‘based on the unity of time and space’ (L. Fontana et al, Manifesto Blanco, Buenos Aires, 1946). Evolving from his early buchi (‘holes’), the tagli responded directly to this mission, synthesising speed, energy and motion in the sweeping arc of the artist’s slashing gesture. They were neither paintings nor sculptures, but complex interdimensional objects: ‘spatial concepts’, or concetti spaziali. Like particles rippling in the wake of a comet’s orbit, or the trail of a rocket launched into the unknown, the present work’s vertical incision exists as a quivering trace of its own creation, giving form to the invisible forces that power the workings of the universe. Tragically, Fontana would not live to see the success of the Apollo 11 mission, which—just months after his death—succeeded in landing humankind on the moon.
My cuts are above all a philosophical statement, an act of faith in the infinite, an affirmation of spirituality”
In many ways, the self-referential nature of Fontana’s tagli foreshadowed the evolution of Minimalist thought and practice during the 1960s: the present work's vertical incision invites particular comparison with Dan Flavin's ‘Monument’ for V. Tatlin series. Emptied of all expression and narrative, the tagli were objects without external reference, defined solely by the fact of their own existence. Fontana's fascination with the colourless properties of white was similarly influential in this regard: as Jan van der Marck and Enrico Crispolti have written, ‘[white] struck the note of “pure simplicity,” “pure philosophy,” “spatial philosophy,” “cosmic philosophy” to which Fontana 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). This sense of metaphysical serenity was enhanced by Fontana’s titular use of the word ‘attesa’, translating as ‘waiting’ or ‘expectation’. The cut was not an act of violence or destruction, but rather a statement of hopeful possibility: a portal, perhaps, to infinity. Situated on the brink of Fontana’s own voyage into the beyond, the present work is a poignant expression of this potential. As white gives way to pure darkness, it offers a momentary glimpse of eternity, sealed forever in time and space.
Lot Essay Header Image: Present lot illustarted (detail).