One of the most important post-war Italian artists, Lucio Fontana had an inexhaustible creativity and boundless imagination. His eclectic and multi-faceted artistic practice saw him create an array of art works, from sculpture and ceramics to paintings and installations, collaborating with a range of architects and designers as he explored Spatialism, the movement that he founded in 1947. Mobile bar exemplifies Fontana’s extensive innovation. Conceived with the Italian designer, Osvaldo Borsani, this piece of furniture combines the artistry of two of the leading figures of twentieth century contemporary art and design. A mahogany cabinet, its doors, decorated with ornate bronze handles designed by Fontana, open to reveal a mirrored interior, with a glass shelf decorated with splashes and drips of black and white paint by the artist. Beautifully crafted, Mobile bar fuses tradition with modernity, bringing together traditional, artisan techniques with decoration and embellishments by one of the most radical artists of the period.
Osvaldo Borsani was a pioneer of Italian design, using the prevailing modernist style to create a unique and highly influential avant-garde aesthetic. Born into a family of furniture makers, after studying at the Politecnico di Milano, Borsani joined the family business, Arredamenti Borsani. After the Second World War, Borsani forged friendships with many of the leading artists of the period, including Fausto Melotti, Arnolodo Pomodoro, Agenore Fabbri and Lucio Fontana, and invited them to collaborate with him on interior and furniture designs. Creating some of the most iconic furniture designs of the 20th Century, Borsani had a progressive vision and is remembered as one of the foremost Italian designers.
In 1947, Fontana had just returned to Milan from Argentina. Expounding Spatialism in a number of manifestos, the artist was conceiving his Spatial environments or Ambienti spaziali, which merged the disciplines of architecture, painting and sculpture to create installations which existed in real time and space; the goal of Spatialism. In 1949, the same year that Fontana showed his first Ambiente spaziale in Milan, he established a relationship with the design company, Arredamenti Borsani, marking the beginning of a long and productive collaboration. Borsani and Fontana worked together on furniture designs, such as Mobile bar, as well as interior installations and decorations, including mosaics, frescoes, stucco and neon lights for several Milanese apartments, including a large, red ceramic dolphin that was designed for a swimming pool in Monza in 1952. This collaboration was very successful, allowing Fontana to experiment with a variety of materials in an array of settings and spaces. As Luca Quattrocchi has remarked, ‘With the virtuosity of a fine craftsman Fontana adopted every means of expression, both ancient and modern, in a daring blend of materials governed by the heightened free creative gesture’ (L. Quattrocchi, ‘The Spatial Environments and their Relationship with Post-World War II Architecture’, in E. Crispolti and R. Siligato (eds.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Rome, 1998, p. 165).
Fontana maintained that there were no boundaries between artistic mediums and disciplines. He believed that conventional genres were outmoded, stating, ‘We live in the age of physics and technology. Painted cardboard and erected plaster no longer have any justification to exist’ (The Manifesto Blanco, 1946, in ibid., p. 115). Painting and sculpture merged in the artist’s eyes, as did the practices of architects and artists, so that a new, concept of ‘spatial’ art could be created, one that corresponded to the technological developments of the time. Believing in the unity of the arts, Fontana removed the boundaries normally imposed by art making and revelled in the freedom of creation, creating an astonishing variety of art work and objects, such as Mobile bar, that display his passionate explorations into the possibilities of art in a new technological era.