Executed in 1964, Concetto Spaziale, Attesa is the perfect expression of Lucio Fontana's Spatialist concept. Previously owned by the Venezuelan artist and major proponent of Op Art, Jesus Rafael Soto, it embodies the zero point or lacuna of painting. Rendered through one tight, vertical incision on a virgin white canvas, the painting no longer acts as a carrier of narrative or illustrative meaning, but as an active element in the redefinition of space and time. Situated perfectly along the central vertical axis of the pristine painting, Fontana's immaculate taglie or cut offers up a new dimension, what he referred to as a 'free space' stretching out beyond the picture plane. This concept was intended to make the viewer look beyond the physical reality of painting and to introduce a sense of time, light and space into an otherwise flat canvas. Resonating with the language of the Futurist manifesto, Fontana's pioneering gesture hoped to embody the dynamism of modern man, accelerated by the innovations of technology and science at the onset of a new Nuclear age.
Fontana emerged in 1947 as a leading proponent of the European avant-garde, eschewing the materiality of recent practice in favour of a new metaphysical approach. This was underscored by a manifesto published the preceding year entitled the Manifesto Bianco, which called for an '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). Fontana had been watching the innovations of space travel and quantum physics with fascination and considered existing modes of painting and sculpture out-dated and unable to reflect the accelerated process of contemporary change. One of the first to appreciate the ramifications of such radical developments, he eagerly sought to find a means of expressing it within art. As he wrote in his Technical Manifesto of 1951, 'the discovery of new physical powers, the conquest of matter and space gradually impose on man conditions which have never existed beforethe application of these discoveries to the various forms of life brings about a substantial transformation in our way of thinking. The painted surface, the erected stone, no longer have a meaning' (Technical Manifesto, reproduced in J. Van der Marck, 'The Spatial Concept of Art', Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Minneapolis, 1966).
Fontana's solution entailed the penetration of a canvas with a vertical tagli or punctured bucchi (hole) to create a three-dimensional object, existing in real space. In Concetto Spaziale, Attesa, one of the most pure examples of this practice, the artist's hand has violently breached the pristine white canvas with one long cut, the moment of its creation forever immortalised through its surface. As the artist once expounded, 'what we want to do is to unchain art from matter, to unchain the sense of the eternal from the preoccupation with the immortal. And we don't care if a gesture, once performed, lives a moment or a millennium, since we are truly convinced that once performed it is eternal' (First Spatialist Manifesto, 1947 reproduced in in E. Crispolti et al. (eds.), Lucio Fontana, Milan 1998, pp. 117-118).
For Fontana, the practice of creating the tagli was deeply premeditated, the artist ruminating on his approach for hours, or even days. As he once explained, 'they think it's easy to make a cut or a hole, but it's not true. You have no idea how much stuff I throw away. The idea has to be realised with precision' (Lucio Fontana quoted in G. Ballo, Lucio Fontana, New York 1971, p. 45, quoted in S. Whitfield (ed.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1999-2000, p. 42). As chronicled in the famous series of photographs taken by Ugo Mulas in the artist's studio, Fontana would prepare himself, standing erect at some distance from the easel, until he could muster the appropriate physical and mental concentration. As he told Mulas at the time, 'I really have to be in the right mood to perform this task' (Lucio Fontana quoted in U. Mulas, La Fotografia, Turin 1973 quoted in S. Whitfield (ed.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1999-2000, p. 31). The cut itself, was enacted in a sequence, first by saturating the canvas in white emulsion paint allowing it to partially dry, and then by making a small incision with a Stanley knife to be dragged down the full length of the canvas. The canvas would then firm and dry out with time, the cut having been eased apart with the flat of the artist's hand. One of Fontana's close friends described this gesture as a 'caress', the artist tenderly working on the canvas and physically engaging it to gently open each furl.
For Fontana, the single abstract tagli was not a destructive act, but a creative exploration of the possibilities of art. The cut was to reveal the mysteries of light, 'the most intense moment of luminosity [occurring] at the point where the slightly curving planes at each side of the cut meet the slit of dark space' (G. Celant quoted in S. Whitfield (ed.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1999-2000, p. 42). He also sought to depict movement through his work, an ambition shared with the pre-war Italian Futurists, who had proudly declared in their first manifesto: 'the gesture which we would reproduce on canvas shall no longer be a fixed moment in universal dynamism. It will be dynamic sensation itself' (U. Boccioni et al., 'Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto', 1910 reproduced in C. Harrison and P. Wood (ed.), Art in Theory 1900-1990, Cambridge, 1993, p. 150). Through the apparently simple gesture of striking through the canvas, Fontana remarkably achieved both, permitting air and light to penetrate through it, forever engaging its surface.
Fontana embraced the metaphysical enquiry of his time. As he once concluded, 'Einstein's discovery of the cosmos is the infinite dimension, without end. And so here we have: foreground, middleground and background... to go farther what do I have to do?... I make holes, infinity passes through them, light passes through them, there is no need to paint' (Lucio Fontana, quoted in E. Crispolti, 'Spatialism and Informel: The Fifties' pp. 144-150, E. Crispolti & R. Siligato (eds.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Milan, 1998, p. 146). KA