Executed in 1959, Concetto spaziale, Attese is situated at the dawn of Lucio Fontana’s iconic series, the tagli or cuts, which he first initiated just a few months earlier in the autumn of 1958. Amongst the first tagli to be recorded in Enrico Crispolti’s catalogue raisonné of the artist, Concetto spaziale, Attese dates from a period of great excitement as Fontana explored the expressive potential of his radical artistic gesture: the cut, which would become the most emblematic symbol the artist’s practice and the encapsulation of his Spatialist theories. Against a background of silver grey with a golden band that crosses the lower half conjuring the impression of a galactic spatial horizon, ten variously sized cuts rhythmically dance across the canvas, creating a sense of rippling movement that flows through the surface. Ranging in size, they embody the cadenced rhythm of the artist’s hand as he used a knife to tear through the canvas, and reveal chasms of the mysterious black space the lies beyond the surface. Many of these first tagli are now held in museums across the world, including the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Museo del Novecento, Milan; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
The first tagli date from the autumn of 1958. Buoyed by his success at the 1958 Venice Biennale, where he had a sizeable room in the central pavilion and exhibited a wide range of early work as well as a selection of his most recent canvases, Fontana was determined to push forward with his Spatialist investigations. At around this time, Fontana had been working on a series entitled Inchiostri: works in which he applied ink and aniline dyes onto unprimed canvases before piercing the surface with holes and in some cases, attaching collaged pieces of canvas to the coloured picture surface. These lyrical, evocative paintings have subtle tonal variations and nebulous forms that swell across the expansive surface of the canvas. Towards the end of the year, while he was working on these inks, Fontana made a dramatic alteration and slashed through the canvas itself with a knife. No personal account by the artist exists to explain exactly how the tagli came into being, though it has been suggested that Fontana executed this gesture in a moment of frustration about the over embellishment and materiality of some of his prior canvases (A. White, Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, 2011, p. 208). The multiple cuts in Concetto spaziale, Attese appear as a logical extension of Fontana’s prior experimentations; their rhythmic arrangement is reminiscent of the buchi or holes that he had executed up until this point.
In his simple, clean slashing gesture, Fontana achieved his long-standing conceptual aims. Since the late 1940s, the artist had expounded the need for a new type of art that would embody the radical new conception of space and the universe as a limitless, unfathomable dimension composed of immeasurable space and time. His stark, irretractable gesture of the cut united the fundamental elements of space, time and energy. This for Fontana represented the final frontier in art: his incisions transformed the two-dimensional surface of the canvas into a multi-dimensional object that could exist within the limitless parameters of space and time: a Spatial concept or ‘Concetto spaziale’. The artist stated in an interview in 1954, ‘sculpture and painting are both things of the past…We need a new form. Art that’s movement. Art within space’ (A. White, Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, 2011, p. 241). With the slash, Fontana achieved these aims, integrating a sense of limitless, intangible space into his work, and pioneering a new form of art.
This was a groundbreaking period in the development of contemporary, conceptual art. In 1957, the first exhibition of Yves Klein’s transcendental monochrome paintings was held in Milan, and in 1958, a large retrospective of Abstract Expressionist, Jackson Pollock was held in Rome. Piero Manzoni had conceived his colourless, self-reflexive Achromes, which radically redefined the concept of painting. Together with Klein and Manzoni, at this time, Fontana expanded the boundaries of painting, privileging the artistic concept over the representational composition; using the realised work not as a mimetic vision of the world but as a vehicle for his ideas. Concetto spaziale, Attese marks the beginning of one of the most prolific decades in Fontana’s great career, which saw him leave behind Art Informel in favour of the conceptual work that was to become his hallmark. Over the course of this period, Fontana transformed the entire artistic landscape and the present work can be seen as marking the shift in this radical trajectory.