Conceived in 1964 – the year before Luciano Fabro’s first solo exhibition – Struttura ortogonale assoggettata ai quattro vertici a tensione (Orthogonal structure subjected to tension at the four vertices) is an important example of his early practice. It belongs to a series of works made from gridded metal bars, all of which are sliced and prised apart along the central vertical axis. The present work, made from polished steel pipes, remains joined by two horizontal bars in the middle of the structure, with its twin halves pulled in opposing directions. A key figure within the Arte Povera movement, Fabro sought to reveal the inherent magic and mystery of his base media, awakening his viewers to the rich, alchemical power of everyday materials and structures. Art should not concern itself with illusion, he believed, but should instead strive to reveal new truths about nature and reality. In the present work, the grid – enshrined by Modernists as the ultimate expression of elemental purity – is warped and buckled by the physical forces exerted upon it. In doing so, it transforms from a humble metal grille into a curious, otherworldly apparition, caught in the act of metamorphosis.
Fabro’s own commentary on the present work sheds light on this process. ‘I was pursuing a precise aim’, he explained: ‘seeing the sense that a material takes on when it shifts from one shape to another. To get this sense it is necessary for the two forms to appear to be simultaneously present, for the new form to appear to be unresolved from the memory of the previous one … When I speak of form in the case of Struttura Ortogonale, I’m not thinking just of the perimeter or the shell or, to be precise, of the structure, of the form in a descriptive sense, but also and more reasonably of the form in the Active sense of taking form, of taking on shape and image: in the sense of nature and in the sense of art. In art it stems from the finishing of a movement. It seems certain to me that this is as true for one art as it is for another … It is as easy to begin forms as it is difficult to finish them: only for nature is this natural’ (L. Fabro, quoted in Luciano Fabro, exh. cat., Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples, 2008, p. 113).
Fabro was inspired early on by Lucio Fontana’s tagli, or slashed canvases, which he encountered as a young man at the 1958 Venice Biennale. Fascinated by the artist’s exploration of new spatial possibilities, he moved to Milan, where he met Piero Manzoni. Like Fabro, Manzoni was interested in the notion that materials ultimately dictated their own form: a stance embodied by his self-determining Achromes. Fabro, for his part, believed that ‘the artist is always the person who is at hand to enable things to go to the right place – not to assign a place to them, because they already have their place’ (L. Fabro, quoted in Luciano Fabro, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1997, p. 12). Thus, the present work is less an exercise in transformation than in revelation: a bid to demonstrate what the material is capable of under a certain level of duress. This idea would come to play an important role in both Arte Povera and Minimalist practices, both of which conceived art-making as a vehicle for exploring the objects and substances that make up the world.