‘We refuse to believe that science and art are two separate things, in other words, that the gestures made by one of the two activities do not also belong to the other. Artists anticipate scientific gestures, scientific gestures always lead to artistic gestures’ (Second Manifesto of Spatialism, 1948-1949, reproduced in R. Miracco, Lucio Fontana: At the Roots of Spatialism, exh. cat., Estorick Collection of Modern Art, London, 2007, p. 37).
‘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’ (L. Fontana, ‘First Spatialist Manifesto’, 1947, reproduced in E. Crispolti et al. (eds.), Lucio Fontana, Milan 1998, pp. 117-18).
Erupting forth in a burst of radiant yellow, like the glowing rays of the burning sun, Concetto spaziale, Attese is a glorious example of Lucio Fontana’s iconic tagli, or cuts, which have come to embody the very essence of the artist’s Spatialist theories. Slashed from the very top of the canvas to the bottom with sweeping, almost balletic gestures, the pure field of vivid yellow is ruptured by seven pristine cuts, each incision following the cadence of the artist’s hand as it scores the surface of the painting. One of only two works conceived by Fontana to unite seven immaculate cuts on a dazzling yellow canvas, Concetto spaziale, Attese has been part of the same private collection since its execution in 1965. Created mid-way through the most astounding decade of space travel in man’s history, with its sun-drenched palette Concetto spaziale, Attese pays tribute to the galactic accomplishments so admired by Fontana. From the first human voyage into space in 1961, to the moon landing in 1969, achieved one year after the artist’s death, in the same way that pioneering astronauts probed the far flung corners of the cosmos throughout the 1960s, so too did Fontana’s pioneering slashing gestures seek to access an unknown dimension beyond the surface of the canvas. Invoking the life-giving force at the heart of the solar-system, in Concetto spaziale, Attese the conceptual grounding of the tagli is imbued with a new level of painterly poeticism, a programmatic attempt to give substance to the mystical and immaterial quality of sunlight as it penetrates the uncharted depths of the universe, each cut prised open to reveal the infinite void which lies beyond. Evocative of solar eclipse – that unearthly, disquieting phenomenon – the work embodies the sense of awe and wonder that accompanied a decade of galactic triumphs.
Concetto spaziale, Attese occupies a significant place within the new artistic paradigm proposed by Fontana’s Spatialist theories. As an ode to the sun – the central life-giving source of light, energy and matter – the work invokes the magic and mysticism of the spatial exchange between the material object and the immaterial quality of light through its brilliant yellow palette. Unifying the physical properties of painting with the concept of an, as yet, unexplored dimension, the earthbound materiality of the work is infused with a sense of colour, light and energy, through the immaterial realm liberated beyond the surface of the canvas. Just as the sun itself fuses light and physical substance, so too does the work combine a sense of the intangible with the properties of solid matter. Concetto spaziale, Attese further probes Fontana’s intense fascination with sunlight that the artist cultivated in the luminous oil and metal works produced in response to his sojourns in Venice and New York in 1961. Though enraptured by the golden symbolism of Byzantium and St. Mark’s, as well as the glimmering reflective surfaces of Venetian architecture, it was not until arriving in New York that Fontana experienced his true epiphany. ‘New York is a city made of glass colossi on which the Sun beats down, causing torrents of light’ (L. Fontana, quoted in G. Livi, ‘Incontro con Lucio Fontana’, in Vanità, vol. VI, no. 13, Autumn 1962, p. 52). Overwhelmed by the city’s futuristic dynamism, Fontana recounted with great excitement, ‘yesterday I went to the top floor of the most famous of the skyscrapers … the one made of bronze and gilded glass … It seemed to contain the Sun’ (L. Fontana, quoted in L. Massimo Barbero, ‘Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York’ in Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, exh. cat., Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 2006, p. 42).
Responding to the advent of space travel and the extraordinary scientific advances that shook the twentieth-century, Fontana sought transcendent new directions within his practice that could adequately express the revolutionary new ways in which mankind had come to perceive their place in the universe. Fascinated by the astronomical discoveries that had shown the uncharted territories of the cosmos to be potentially infinite, Fontana felt it essential to find an art that could explore these limitless possibilities, writing in 1948, ‘We refuse to believe that science and art are two separate things, in other words, that the gestures made by one of the two activities do not also belong to the other. Artists anticipate scientific gestures, scientific gestures always lead to artistic gestures’ (Second Manifesto of Spatialism, 1948-1949, reproduced in R. Miracco, Lucio Fontana: At the Roots of Spatialism, exh. cat., Estorick Collection of Modern Art, London, 2007, p. 37). Published in 1947 by Fontana and other avant-garde artists in Buenos Aires, the Manifesto Blanco outlined a new ideology known as Spatialism, which called for ‘the development of an art based on the unity of time and space’ (Manifesto Blanco, 1946, reproduced in R. Fuchs, Lucio Fontana: La cultura dell’occhio, exh. cat., Castello di Rivoli, Rivoli, 1986, p. 80). Piercing the canvas, initially with his series of bucchi, or holes, and subsequently through his tagli, Fontana discovered an elegant solution to his conceptual aims, creating an object at once painting and sculpture, which could exist both in material space, while denoting the immateriality of the mysterious void. As the artist explained, ‘the discovery of the cosmos is a new dimension, it is infinity, so I make a hole in this canvas, which was at the basis of all the arts, and I have created an infinite dimension… the idea is precisely that, it is a new dimension corresponding to the cosmos… Einstein’s discovery of the cosmos is the infinite dimension, without end… I make holes, infinity passes through them, light passes through them, there is no need to paint’ (L. Fontana, quoted in E. Crispolti, ‘Spatialism and Informel. The Fifties’, in Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Milan, 1998, p. 146).
Fontana’s desire to create an art that remained relevant to the era of scientific discoveries in which he lived is evident in the gestures with which he created Concetto spaziale, Attese. These gestures capture the very essence of movement, the wake left by parting particles, the ripples in space and time. With each iconoclastic action the artist captured a moment in eternity, transforming the two-dimensions of painting into an infinity of space. As he 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’ (L. Fontana, ‘First Spatialist Manifesto’, 1947, reproduced in E. Crispolti et al. (eds.), Lucio Fontana, Milan 1998, pp. 117-18). The spiritual significance of the number seven resonates within this work. In the velvety blackness of each slit the profundity of man’s extraordinary galactic steps resounds with the echo of Western civilisation encapsulated by the apocryphal tale of the seven days of creation. Intimating a mysterious ‘fourth dimension’, Fontana’s work sought to engage with a higher plane. He wrote, ‘It is eternal insofar as the gesture, like any other perfect gesture, continues to exist in the spirit of man as a perpetuated race. Likewise, paganism, Christianity and everything involving the spirit, are perfect and eternal gestures that remain and will always remain in the spirit of man’ (Second Manifesto of Spatialism, 1948-1949, reproduced in R. Miracco, Lucio Fontana: At the Roots of Spatialism, exh. cat., Estorick Collection of Modern Art, London, 2007, p. 37). Existing eternally, the tagli achieve a near spiritual state of transcendence, capturing the essence of the immaterial in a gesture that encompasses the mysterious and unmeasured dimension of space and time, while remaining, like the pervasive, essential presence of sunlight on the earth, of this world.