Executed in 1955, Concetto spaziale belongs to Lucio Fontana's celebrated series of Pietre paintings. The ietre were instigated in 1952 and are named after the coloured glass 'stones' adhered to their surface. These jagged fragments introduce sculptural projections into the space in front of the canvas, while Fontana's Bucchi, or holes, penetrate into the space beyond. The present painting's balance between recession and protrusion is a poetic articulation of Fontana's Spatialist agenda. Its intersecting trails of holes and faceted glass create a field of diametrically opposed forces that reflect his mission to explore the conceptual depths of space and matter beyond the limits of the two-dimensional picture plane. Enrico Crispolti has described the holes in these works as representing, 'a spatial 'other side' with respect to the surface of the canvas, while the material concretions and the 'stones' on the surface represent 'this side', creating a different spatial allusion, but also iconographic suggestions of a prevalently cosmic nature' (E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. I, Milan 2006, p. 31).
Fontana's fascination with the cosmos is clearly articulated in Concetto spaziale. The glistening stones and white-ringed holes are held in tension against a monochromatic black expanse, as if imitating a particular celestial constellation. But this arrangement is not simply intended as an illustration of a star-flecked sky. The vastness of the universe is also echoed in the microcosm of the hole. These holes, which Fontana introduced in works on paper in 1949, pierce the canvas in the same way that the stars were once thought to have punctured the firmament above. In this way, Fontana has opened up a third dimension in the picture plane, introducing space in both a literal and a metaphorical sense. 'While working on one of my perforated canvases', Fontana explained, 'I do not want to make a painting: I want to open up space, create a new dimension for art, tie in with the cosmos as it endlessly expands beyond the confining plane of the picture' (Fontana, quoted in Jan van der Marck and Enrico Crispolti, La Connaissance, Brussels 1974, p.7). The glass is used here to subtly catch and channel light into the painting, while the holes negate the distinction between solid and void, thereby drawing our attention to the fact that seemingly concrete matter is merely transitory energy.
Concetto spaziale represents Fontana's revolutionary move away from the flat and illusory space of the canvas and towards an art that is a synthesis of colour, movement, time and space: an art that accurately reflected the Nuclear age. The scientific findings of modern man, from the developing theories of evolution to the atomic physics that could divide the smallest particles of matter, irrevocably changed the concept of our place in the world. Fontana understood the impact of these phenomenal technological advancements on a metaphysical level. He embraced the idea of humankind's insignificance in the macrocosm of the universe, believing that when man comprehends he is merely a blip in the vastness of space, he will appreciate the interconnectedness of all things and will somehow be freed from worldly desires. Concetto spaziale thereby heralds the Space Age in every way. Despite pre-dating space travel by some time, Fontana's concept of the new sense of scale in the universe mingled with the new sense of man's very real ability to reach to the stars. The infinite dimension invoked in Concetto spaziale is the same infinite dimension that was inspiring scientists in the United States and in Russia to create their rockets and satellites during the same period.
The 1950s were a time of tremendous activity and innovation for Fontana. With the support of the energetic artistic milieu in Milan, the artist was gaining an ever-growing international reputation as Italy's pioneer of abstract art. Indeed, this painting was once owned by one of Fontana's most important early champions in Milan, Giampiero Giani. The influential art critic's studio had been a popular gathering place for artists and writers when Fontana returned to Italy from Argentina in 1947 and he would go on to sign the third Spatialist manifesto, Proposta di un regolamento (Porposal for a Set of Rules) in March 1950 and the VII Manifesto Tecnico dello Spatzialismo in 1958. Giani also authored a significant monograph on the artist and charted the development of Spatialism in the 1956 book Spazializmo: origini e sviluppi di una tendenza artistica (Spatialism: The Origins and Development of an Artistic Movement), in which the present painting is featured.
For Giani, Fontana's punctured paintings demonstrated the future of art and the complexity of modern life. The year Concetto spaziale was created, he underscored the relationship between such works and recent discoveries of science, describing Fontana's concept of space as replacing all outmoded beliefs and perceptions of the universe: 'The term space does not refer to a space around somethingbut rather corresponds to the revelations that science has offered to the imaginations of men. A barbarian inspires and influences this modern life, ready to depart from our planet, weighing heavily upon those feelings that up until yesterday had helped us to live' (G. Giani, 'Lucio Fontana,' in VII Quadriennale nazionale d'arte di Roma, Rome, 1955, pp. 128-129).