This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of E. Crispolti, Fontana, Catalogo Generale, Milan, 2006, under number 61 O 135.
Executed in 1961, Concetto spaziale is one of Fontana's Olii, a group of works that includes his celebrated Venice paintings, created the same year and to which the present picture is clearly related. While Concetto spaziale does not share the square format that the Venice paintings used, its thick, worked golden surface, reminiscent of Venezia era tutta d'oro, and the mixture of hole, slash and glass within it all recall the Baroque splendours of that series. Even the composition, with the hint of an island-like form encircled by the lines etched into the surface, recalls the evocative boundaries that characterised some of the works in that series such as La luna a Venezia.
Of all the picture-format Concetti spaziali that Fontana created, it was in the Olii that he most boldly intermingled the sense of space with material. The vigorous application of patterns to the surface of Concetto spaziale, which is also perforated and slashed, as well as having glass embedded in it, creates a rich sense of texture and also of movement. Fontana appears to have united the Baroque and the Informel on a single canvas. This gilded Baroque aesthetic was perfectly suited to the theme of Venice, La Serenissima, a city that floats on a reflective lagoon and which itself is filled with the reflective surfaces both of the golden mosaics of its ancient churches and the golden furniture and decorative curlicues of its rich later and sometimes Rococo decorations. The golden surface of Concetto spaziale is as pertinent to the city that is home to the Basilica di San Marco as it is to the home of the famous theatre, La Fenice. The city itself must have fascinated Fontana, as it is in its own right an ancient and organically growing Concetto spaziale, mirage-like in its lagoon.
The island-like outline that marks Concetto spaziale and also features in some of the Venice paintings is by no means limited in its implications and interpretations to the topological description of that city. Instead, it is a form of Spatial passe-partout, an element that has infinite meanings for Fontana. It is map-like and island-like, lending the impression of viewing the world from the air, a concept that was hugely important to the artist, as was reflected by the following words in the 1948 Spatial Manifesto:
'If the artist, locked in his tower, once represented himself and his astonishment and saw the landscape through his windows and then, having come down from the castles into the cities, he mixed with other men and saw from close-up the trees and the objects, now, today, we spatial artists have escaped from the cities, we have shattered our shell, our physical crust, and we have looked at ourselves from above, photographing the earth from rockets in flight' (Second Spatial Manifesto, signed by G. Dova, L. Fontana, B. Joppolo, G. Kaisserlian, M. Milani, A Tullier, Milan, March 1948, reproduced in E. Crispolti & R. Siligato (ed.), Lucio Fontana, exh.cat., Milan, 1998, p.118)
This sense of a new and fresh perspective from which to view the world was only increased by the advent of space travel and exploration-- it is interesting to note that Concetti spaziali dates from the same year that Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel to Space. In this context, the scrawled circles in Concetto spaziale delineate not only the landscape from the air, but also the globe itself hovering in space, as seen for the first time from beyond the atmosphere. These lines represent the hanging orb or Earth as viewed from a startling new vantage-point in Space. In this way, Concetto spaziale is the artistic expression of the ultimate Spatial concept, the realisation of all the movement's hopes and dreams. As a Spatial painting for the Space Age, the gold surface of Concetto spaziale comes to double both as Baroque and as gleamingly scientific. The world of science and technology is captured in the use of this pseudo-metallic picture, perfectly marrying the world of the future with an aesthetic from the past.
This scientific sheen is disrupted by the gestural application of paint, by its having been visibly swirled and muddled by the artist, by the glass embedded in the oil and by the slashes and holes that puncture the surface. The outline on the canvas is far from precise, is no product of cartography or science, but appears to owe more to the Abstract Expressionists. However, Fontana's evolution of a unique form of Action Painting has little to do with the personal outpourings that concerned his American counterparts, but is instead a means of capturing and displaying raw energy. Like the slashes and holes, rents in the canvas that are the visible evidence of the artist's own gesture and application, so too the worked paint-surface in Concetto spaziale bespeaks Fontana's movements before the work. He has moved around, has applied and moved paint, as cut the surface, has embedded glass into the oils, and the traces of these movements are themselves a Spatial manifesto of sorts. His energy, the energy of the creation of Concetto spaziale, is both the means of execution and the key content of the painting.
The holes in particular show Fontana's complex interaction with his work. The conversion of a painting into a three-dimensional sculptural object-- or rather Fontana's demand that the viewer now consider the picture in this sense, analogous to the artist viewing the world from his tower in the Manifesto above-- allow the artist both to desecrate and to celebrate the material that comprises Concetto spaziale. Fontana and his followers declared the painted canvas obsolete, and so he has attacked it, torn it. And yet this intense interaction with the material aspects of the painting, of the canvas, of the oils, of the glass all tell of an artist revelling in the use and abuse of these raw elements. The Informel that had influenced and run parallel to Fontana's developments and discoveries in the immediate post-War period here finds itself in a new guise, holding hands with the Baroque. This unlikely union results in the peculiar yet potent visual energy that defines so many of the Olii: a resounding tension links on the one hand the gleaming finish, the decorative wealth that is implied by the metallic paint and on the other hand the raw expression, the graffiti-like scratches, holes and scrawls that show Fontana's own exuberant enjoyment of the act of painterly creation itself. Yet ultimately, in playing with these materials, in piercing them and swirling them, Fontana is not only celebrating them, but is also pointing to their own redundancy, balancing the implied mortality of paint, canvas and, by extension, painter with the eternal nature of the gestures of creation and the eternal nature of the sculpted space that is embedded within Concetto spaziale. It is this gesture and this creation of a void within the canvas that is important to Spatialism. In this way, Concetto spaziale perfectly encapsulates the declaration of the Second Spatial Manifesto that:
'The work of art is destroyed by time.
'When, in the final blaze of the universe, time and space no longer exist, there will be no memory of the monuments erected by man, although not a single hair on his head will have been lost.
'But we do not intend to abolish the art of the past or to stop life: we want painting to escape from its frame and sculpture from its bell-jar. An expression of aerial art of a minute is as if it lasts a thousand years, an eternity' (ibid.).