"Gold is as beautiful as the Sun"
("l'oro è bello come il sole", The artist's inscription on the reverse of Concetto spaziale, 1964 (64 O 11)).
Executed in 1964, Concetto spaziale is a large-scale, radiant, and sensual gold Olii by the pioneering Italian Post-War artist Lucio Fontana. A treasured part of a European private collection, this is the first time this majestic work has been seen by the public for over forty-five years. In Concetto spaziale, Fontana has perforated the rich surface of the canvas with eight bucchi or holes as part of his ongoing Spatialist investigations. He makes direct contact with the sumptuous gold monochromatic surface, violently disrupting its pristine material and moulding the resulting cavities as if with the clay of his earlier terracotta Natura series. In Concetto spaziale, the artist has used his fingers to manipulate the canvas and its wealth of malleable gold oil paint, pulling the holes apart to form extended gouges in the surface. These pregnant ruptures are assembled in a concentric circle, encompassing an illusory taglie or cut in the centre of the canvas, formed by two vertical scratches. Surrounding the whole composition is a freely gestured circle, scored into the paint by a hard-edged instrument. The resulting pattern recalls cosmic constellations, the ripened flesh of fruit and the carnal imprint of female sexuality. At the same time, the gilded opulence of Concetto spaziale, rendered especially lustrous by Fontana's pink preparatory under-painting, pays striking tribute to the Venetian Baroque and its legacy of splendid beauty. Visiting Venice in 1961 to exhibit at the exhibition Arte e Contemplazione at Palazzo Grassi, Fontana was struck by the reflective surfaces of Byzantine gold, the mosaics of the Basilica di San Marco and the golden furniture and decorative curlicues of the city's Rococo ornaments. In Concetto spaziale, created three years later, this debt to the city is particularly evident, with its circular island floating in a lagoon of sumptuous golden oil paint.
'it is necessary to overturn and transform painting, sculpture and poetry. A form of art is now demanded which is based on the necessity of this new vision. The baroque has guided us in this direction, in all its as yet unsurpassed grandeur, where the plastic form is inseparable from the notion of time, the images appear to abandon the plane and continue into space the movements they suggest'
(Lucio Fontana Manifesto, translated by C. Damiano, 1951, reproduced in L. Massimo Barbero (ed.), Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, Venice & New York 2006, p. 229).
Fontana emerged as a leading figure in the European avant-garde upon his return from Argentina in 1947. In Milan he pioneered the concept of Spazialismo, a radical revision of the purposes of cultural production that advocated 'art based on the unity of time and space' (Manifesto Blanco, Buenos Aires 1946, reproduced in E. Crispolti et al. (eds.), Lucio Fontana, Milan 1998, p. 116). Turning away from the materialism of recent practice, Fontana began to investigate the possibilities of raw materials, no longer using the canvas as an illustrative carrier of meaning but as an active element in the definition of space. In this project, Fontana was deeply engaged with the geopolitical context of the new Nuclear age, characterised by advances in quantum physics and pioneering space exploration. These developments were rapidly changing the context of contemporary life and Fontana believed that as a modern artist the only way forward was to embrace scientific potential and create a new psychological realm for exploration. In a stunningly simple yet innovative gesture, Fontana replaced painting with a bucchi or taglie opening up a two dimensional canvas into a third plane, disrupting the illusion of the flat surface and exposing it to the concept of 'beyond'; a process that was to define his oeuvre. As Fontana once said of his practice, 'Einstein's discovery of the cosmos is the infinite dimension, without end. And here we have the foreground, middleground and background, what do I have to do to go further? I make a hole, infinity passes through it, light passes through it, there is no need to painteveryone thought I wanted to destroy; but it is not true, I have constructed' (Lucio Fontana in conversation with Carla Lonzi 1967, reproduced in C. Lonzi (ed.), Autoritratto, Bari 1969, p. 176)
In Fontana's Concetto spaziale, he takes his concept further, replacing the raw canvas with a densely laden, oil paint hewn surface. He furnishes a new relationship with the work, creating linear and circular scratches and multiple perforations that emphasise the contrast between material and the void. The resulting appearance seems at once carnal and erotic, celebrating female sexuality in its reference to the intimate contours of the woman's anatomy. At the same time it seems painful, the epidermis of the canvas furled at the edges of each puncture in a mark reminiscent of the stigmata. As Fontana once explained, 'they represent the pain of man in space. The pain of the astronaut, squashed, compressed, with instruments sticking out of his skin, is different from ourshe who flies in space is a new type of man, with new sensations, not least painful ones' (Lucio Fontana quoted in E. Crispolti (ed.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat. Palazzo delle Esposizione, Rome 1998, p. 244).
In Concetto Spaziale, not only does Fontana meditate on space but on movement, temporality and the notion of the eternal. The eight orifices that penetrate the canvas are alive with the air and light that pass through them, yet they are equally suspended in time, infinitely re-enacting the moment of their creation. This continuous dynamic captured in space and time, coupled with the resplendent gold of the canvas recalls elements of the Baroque that Fontana so admired. As Fontana once suggested in his Manifesto Technico dello Spazialismo, 'it is necessary to overturn and transform painting, sculpture and poetry. A form of art is now demanded which is based on the necessity of this new vision. The baroque has guided us in this direction, in all its as yet unsurpassed grandeur, where the plastic form is inseparable from the notion of time, the images appear to abandon the plane and continue into space the movements they suggest' (Lucio Fontana Manifesto, translated by C. Damiano, 1951, reproduced in L. Massimo Barbero (ed.), Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, Venice & New York 2006, p. 229). KA