‘I am not interested in the kind of space you are talking about. Mine is a different dimension. The hole is this dimension’
(Fontana quoted in T. Trini, ‘The last interview given by Fontana’ in W. Beeren and N. Serota (eds.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Amsterdam and London, 1988, p. 34).
Violently puncturing the pure and pristine white monochrome surface of Concetto spaziale is a series of small holes that reveal dark chasms of enigmatic space beyond the canvas. Executed in 1960, this work demonstrates Lucio Fontana’s original and most iconic gesture: the hole. With these holes or buchi – the name given to this series of works – Fontana, one of the most innovative artists of post-war Italy, penetrated the previously inviolable flat surface of the canvas and revealed to the viewer a new and unknown dimension beyond: an infinite, limitless void. In executing this iconoclastic act, Fontana realised his quest for a ‘spatial art’, creating works that transcended the conventional boundaries of painting and sculpture and existed in a new spatial realm. With a constellation of holes placed to form the shape of an oval, Concetto spaziale not only exemplifies Fontana’s ground breaking gesture, but also anticipates one of the artist’s most important series, La Fine di Dio (The End of God) which he began three years later in 1963.
Fontana had first pierced through the pictorial surface in 1949 when he punctured a series of holes through pieces of thick white paper. Using a pointed tool, he pierced these pieces in varying sizes from the back or from the front, creating a physical relief across the surface as the pieces of torn material protruded outwards. From paper, Fontana moved to canvas, painting the surface with oil paint before piercing through and experimenting with the size, shape and placement of the holes. By puncturing the surface of the canvas, Fontana activated the space in front of and behind it, as well as infusing the flat two-dimensional object with real space. The canvas was no longer a flat plane to be illustrated with an illusion of reality, but instead became a three-dimensional object that existed in real space, while simultaneously incorporating the unfathomable, limitless void that lay beyond, within and all around it.
Two years before he executed this seminal act, the artist had, along with a group of artists in Milan, founded the movement, Spatialism. In a series of manifestos that began in 1947, these artists proclaimed the need for a new form of art that would correspond to the new scientific and technological advancements that dominated society at this time. The understanding of the universe and earth’s place within it was being radically revised as modern physics and space travel took bold leaps forward. Encapsulating these seismic shifts in man’s perception of the universe, with his buchi, Fontana heralded an entirely new form of art, free from tradition and convention. ‘When I hit the canvas’, Fontana explained, ‘I sensed that I had made an important gesture. It was, in fact, not an incidental hole, it was a conscious hole: by making a hole in the picture I found a new dimension in the void. By making holes in the picture I invented the fourth dimension’ (Fontana quoted in P. Gottschaller, Lucio Fontana: The Artist’s Materials, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 21).
After this breakthrough, Fontana experimented increasingly with different coloured monochrome surfaces, and began to adhere glitter or pieces of glass, as well as swathes of thick oil paint to the punctured surface of his canvases, until in 1958, he executed the first cut or tagli, in which he vertically sliced through the canvas. In 1960 however, a particularly prolific year during which Fontana executed Concetto spaziale, the artist began to execute his buchi with a greater restraint than he had previously exercised. Returning to the stark, monochromatic white surfaces of his first buchi, Fontana, in a work such as Concetto spaziale, reaffirmed the power of the gesture, stripping away all superfluous elements, leaving only the dramatic contrast between the gleaming white surface of the canvas and the violently rendered enigmatic black orifices.
While Fontana’s early buchi had holes punctured in arbitrary formations across the canvas, appearing like constellations of stars floating in a far-off galaxy, in his later works, he arranged the holes in increasingly geometric and ordered configurations that resonate with a new simplicity. In Concetto spaziale, the holes are arranged in horizontal lines that create an oval form – one of the central motifs of Fontana’s art – that is accentuated by the pencil line that traces around the outside. The symbolic shape of the oval or egg has a myriad of connotations – biological, spiritual and primeval – and became the defining form of Fontana’s seminal series La Fine di Dio, which he begun in 1963. The ovoid particularly fascinated Fontana because it was thought at the time to be the shape of the universe. In this context, the holes appear as distant planets or stars, or the all-encompassing black holes in space. The orb that emerges from the white surface of Concetto spaziale has the same mysterious, astral quality, revealing through its holes a vision of another dimension.