‘My cuts are above all a philosophical statement, an act of faith in the infinite, an affirmation of spirituality. When I sit down to contemplate one of my cuts, I sense all at once an enlargement of the spirit, I feel like a man freed from the shackles of matter, a man at one with the immensity of the present and of the future ’ —L. FONTANA
‘I assure you, that on the moon they will not be painting, but they will be making Spatial art’ —L. FONTANA
‘When, in the final burning moments of the universe, time and space no longer exist, no-one will remember the monuments built by man although not one hair of his head will have been lost. We do not intend to abolish art or stop life: we want paintings to come out of their frames, and sculptures from under their glass case. An aerial, artistic portrayal of a minute will last for thousands of years in eternity ’—SECOND SPATIALIST MANIFESTO
‘I moved beyond the limits of perspective … pushing towards a discovery of the universe and a new dimension; that of infinity. It was this research that drove me to perforate the canvas, the base that had always supported all of arts, and so in doing, I created an infinite dimension, a value x that, for me, represented the base of all contemporary art’ —L. FONTANA
‘I do not want to make a painting; I want to open up space’ —L. FONTANA
A luminous vision of cosmic serenity, Concetto spaziale, attese is the largest of only three purely silver tagli paintings by Lucio Fontana, comprising seven calligraphic cuts on a gleaming, shimmering surface. Occupying a rare position within the artist’s pioneering series of slashed canvases, the work offers a dazzling vision of light and movement at the dawn of the Space Age. Scored with elegant precision, the near-balletic sequence of incisions captures the motion of the artist’s hand as he penetrates the fibres of the linen, revealing the unchartered black void that lies beyond its surface. Executed in 1961, the work is closely related to the iridescent oil and metal paintings inspired by Fontana’s visits to Venice and New York that year. Enraptured by the glimmering reflective surfaces he encountered – from the Baroque glory of St. Mark’s, to the futuristic splendour of Manhattan’s skyscrapers – Fontana felt he had glimpsed the machinations of the universe on earth. His recourse to silver and gold – the colours of the moon and sun – reflected his desire to incorporate this celestial radiance into his art. Having harnessed the invisible forces of time and motion in the radical slashing gestures of the tagli, Fontana now sought to capture the unearthly transcendence of the rays that illuminated our world from afar. A powerful expression of this aesthetic, the present work was included in the artist’s 1996 retrospective at the Schurn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, subsequently travelling to the Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna, as well as his 1998 solo show at the Fundacion ‘La Caixa’, Palma and the Museo Nacional Centre de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid. It subsequently featured in the artist’s landmark exhibition in 2000 at the Hayward Gallery, London.
Fontana’s journeys to Venice and New York in 1961 built upon the considerable acclaim already achieved by his tagli: a revolutionary series of works hailed as the purest expression of his Spatialist theories. Following on from his early buchi (‘holes’) – the first works to penetrate the surface of the canvas – Fontana’s sweeping vertical incisions were a consummate extension of the aims set out in his Manifesto Blanco. This document – written in the mid-1940s in conjunction with a group of avant-garde artists in Buenos Aries – declared that a new art form was required to match the discoveries made by the burgeoning field of space travel. Fascinated by the new conception of the cosmos as an infinite spatial void, Fontana and his contemporaries proposed that ‘we abandon the practice of known art forms and we approach the development of an art based on the unity of time and space’ (L. Fontana, Manifesto Blanco, 1946, reproduced in R. Fuchs, Lucio Fontana: La cultura dell’occhio, exh. cat., Castello di Rivoli, Rivoli, 1986, p. 80). The traditional categories of painting and sculpture would dissolve, to be replaced by concetto spaziali (‘spatial concepts’): indeterminate, multi-dimensional objects born of physical actions and temporal gestures. In contrast to the singular perforations of the bucchi, the tagli captured a sense of motion: of particles rippling in the wake of a meteor, or the sweeping arc of a comet mid-orbit. Where the bucchi had permitted only the merest glimpse of the dark territory beyond the canvas, the tagli parted the fibres of the canvas to reveal what Fontana would later describe as ‘the fourth dimension’. ‘Infinity passes through them, light passes through them’ he elaborated; ‘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).
Having hit upon a mode of expression that no longer depended on earthbound matter, Fontana still perceived light as one of art’s most ineffable frontiers. His visit to Venice left him spellbound, inspiring a series of oil works (olii) that sought to channel the opulence of the city’s architectural façades. His subsequent journey to New York, following the acquisition of two tagli works by the Museum of Modern Art, was something of an epiphany in this regard. The city’s sparkling skyline of glass and metal sky-scrapers seemed to make visible the imperceptible workings of the cosmos. ‘New York is a city made of glass colossi on which the Sun beats down, causing torrents of light’, he exclaimed (L. Fontana, quoted in G. Livi, ‘Incontro con Lucio Fontana’, in Vanità, vol. VI, no. 13, Autumn 1962, p. 53). Recounting his first impressions of the Seagram Building, Fontana described how ‘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). The metalli that followed sought to capture these revelations. ‘How was I to paint this terrible New York?’ he asked himself. ‘Then all of a sudden I had an intuition: I took some sheets of shiny metal and set to work, sometimes scratching them vertically to convey the idea of sky-scrapers, sometimes puncturing them with a metal punch, sometimes flexing them to suggest dramatic skies, sometimes reflecting them in a piece of coloured tin-foil to obtain the effect of neon lights’ (L. Fontana, quoted in L. Massimo Barbero, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2006, p. 45).
Concetto spaziale, attese may be seen to relate directly to this body of work. Its dazzling silver surface speaks not only to Fontana’s fascination with the gilded glory of the Baroque, but also to the utopian sheen of the urban landscape. Seen in this light, Fontana’s slashes conjure not only the dark infinity of the cosmos, but equally the extraordinary vertical towers – pillars of innovation and progress – that punctured the skyline like incisions. Operating in counterpoint with their iridescent surroundings, they invite light to play around the edges of their gaping cavities, swallowing and deflecting it at every turn. As Fontana’s metallic rhapsodies added a new dimension to his dialogue with the immaterial, his cuts took on a new significance in relation to the transcendental philosophies of Abstract Expressionism. Fontana had almost certainly encountered the work of these artists during his visit to the city, with leading exponents of the movement flocking to his exhibition of Olii at Martha Jackson Gallery in New York. Like Barnett Newman’s ‘zips’, Fontana’s slashes were conceived as gateways to new states of being: as portals to the boundless territories of the universe. Just as Newman and his contemporaries sought to invoke the metaphysical sensation of the sublime, Fontana’s slashes sought to make visible the vast, spatial realm that lies beyond the limits of the human imagination. ‘What we want to do is to unchain art from matter, to unchain the sense of the eternal from the preoccupation with the immortal’, claimed Fontana in 1947. ‘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). In the present work, Fontana offers a seven-fold response to this statement: a glowing vision of infinity, animated by the elusive dance of cosmic rays.