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


Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
signed and inscribed 'l. Fontana "Concetto spaziale" 1+1-AA74A' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
45½ x 35 in. (115.5 x 88.9 cm.)
Painted in 1961.
Collection of the artist
Private Collection, Perugia
By descent to the previous owner
Anon. sale; Christie's New York, 16 May 2001, lot 53
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Brussels, 1974, vol. II, p. 110, no. 61 O 30 (illustrated).
E. Crispolti, Fontana Catalogo generale, Milan, 1986, vol. II, p. 367, no. 61 O 30 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

Shimmering and golden, Concetto spaziale is an exultant baroque celebration of Spatialism. Executed in 1961, it is one of the Olii, a group of works that includes the famous Venice paintings Fontana created later in the same year. Indeed, this work bears a strong resemblance to one of these in particular, Concetto spaziale, Venezia era tutta d'oro, which essentially differs only in the form of the undulations and the latter's square format.

The relationship between Concetto spaziale and the Venice paintings introduces a hint of the figurative. In Concetto spaziale, Venezia era tutta d'oro, the golden ripples on the surface of the canvas recall a golden sunset over the Venetian lagoon. They introduce a shimmering play of light. This association clearly carries over to Concetto spaziale, which likewise has these evocative waves of oil paint. In this sense, Concetto spaziale appears to be a reincarnation of the traditional veduta, given a new form appropriate to the Space Age and Spatialism. It therefore combines a very specific sense of space and time with the Spatialist interest in eternity, in the timelessness and irrevocability of the artistic gesture. The slash in the center of this painting is an ineradicable opening of space, while the beguilingly crumbling and sinking city of Venice seems all too vulnerable in the present day. In contrast to this eternal and irrevocable gesture, La Serenissima appears as ephemeral as the sunset captured in Concetto spaziale.

The link between Concetto spaziale and Venice, or rather between this picture and a grander pictorial tradition, is all the more emphatic through the use of gold and oils. Oil painting had blossomed in Venice as it was a medium that was water-insoluble, unlike the tempera used in other parts of Italy. In addition to this, Venice is filled with golden mosaics, golden picture frames, the gilded ornamentations of the Baroque period, gold-ground religious paintings. Fontana's use of golden oils in his painting is a statement in its own right, a declaration of his role both as an inheritor and as an iconoclast within the tradition of Italian painting. The baroque appearance of Concetto spaziale appears to pay homage to precedents, yet the picture can also be read as an assault on this same tradition. The metallic appearance of the canvas doubles as a reflection of a futuristic aesthetic, its gleaming surface mirroring the art of the rocket age, as well as the flying saucers and spaceships of science fiction. The slash in the center of this canvas is an attack on the stilted and now redundant aesthetic of the previous ages. This is Fontana's solution to the Gordian Knot of the modern era: as early as 1946 the Manifesto Blanco, which anticipated the later Spatial Manifestoes and which was written under Fontana's influence, declared that, 'We live in the mechanical age. Painted canvas and upright plaster no longer have a reason to exist' (B. Arias, H. Cazeneuve, M. Fridman, The Manifesto Blanco, Buenos Aires, 1946). Fontana presents the viewer with a work of art that demonstrates his own adherence to this belief, yet paradoxically Concetto spaziale also functions as a beautiful, decadent and golden 'painted canvas' in its own right, the artist indulging himself in the same artistic tradition whose irrelevance in the modern world he himself has proclaimed and whose ultimate destruction he has sworn. Concetto spaziale is thus all the more poignant as a poetic precursor to Fontana's tributes to Venice.

The articulation of the surface adds a sense of the sculptural to Concetto spaziale, increasing its autonomous objecthood and emphasising the leap into the third dimension that is made with the slash in the center. This shows Fontana returning to his roots as the son of a professional sculptor while also highlighting the presence of the painting not as a limited two-dimensional false representation of the world, but instead as a three-dimensional invitation to refresh our own conceptions about art and space. At the same time, Fontana has clearly enjoyed engaging with his material, dragging the grooves in the oil into existence. He has revelled in the tactile and sculptural experience of creating this work, revelled in the chance to really get his hands dirty. This marks an intense engagement with Concetto spaziale: it is the product not only of a quasi-surgical procedure, the cut,but also of Fontana's frenzied smearing and smoothing of the oils. By 1961, the open influence of Informel on Fontana's Olii had largely subsided, yet clearly lingers in the form of this interest in material in a shimmering work that appears to celebrate the Immaterial and the eternal.

By harnessing this sense of the Immaterial in a golden canvas, Fontana was perhaps also paying tribute to his friend and fellow-artist, Yves Klein, who had begun to create his Monogold works only two years earlier. For Klein, gold was an intriguing element because, through its connotations of opulence and alchemy, it was the focus of intense materialism, yet at the same time glimmers with the ephemeral nature of the Immaterial. The glistening reflective effects created by the rippling oil surface of Concetto spaziale demonstrate Fontana's interest in-- and mastery of-- manipulating light, be it in the large-scale Ambienti or in smaller works. Both through electrical devices and through the layout of his works of art, he managed to harness light and shadow, to control this ungraspable aspect of our universe. Light travels through space, is immaterial, but crucially also defines space, illuminating the bounds and contents of our material world. In this way, Concetto spaziale is a work that occupies, illuminates, defines and defies space, while at the same time reflecting the artist's own very personal preoccupations with sculpture, art, and beauty.

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