‘I wanted to create a ‘spatial environment, by which I mean an environmental structure, a preliminary journey in which the twenty slits would be as if in a labyrinth containing blanks of the same shape and colour’ (L. Fontana, quoted in S. Whitfeld, Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., London, 1999, p. 200).
‘At the Venice Biennale in 1966 Fontana proposed a room in which were gathered together and disposed according to a particular architectural arrangement some exceedingly pure single tagli in a room which was also entirely white and in which the cuts were the only superficial “cracks” bearing an evident revealing conceptual and metaphysical significance (66 T 35...). White represented, as we know, for Fontana the “purest, least complicated, most understandable colour,” that which most immediately struck the note of “pure simplicity,” “pure philosophy,” “spatial philosophy,” “cosmic philosophy” to which Fontana more than ever aspired during the last years of his life’ (J. van der Marck & E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Vol. I, Brussels, 1974, p. 137).
Enveloping in scale, Concetto spaziale, Attese, 1965 is a pure and lyrical example of Lucio Fontana’s pioneering Spatialist aesthetic. As one of the largest works to be carried out in pristine white, Concetto spaziale, Attese is the only work conceived by the artist uniting ten perfected cuts on canvas within a luminous lacquer frame. Each incision follows the intuitive rhythm and graceful, almost balletic momentum of the artist’s hand as it scored the surface. With its crisp and elegant progression of almost calligraphic slashes traversing the canvas, Concetto spaziale, Attese becomes the quintessential embodiment of Spatialism. Resembling the jots of some strange language or the staccatoed musical notations across sheet music, the succession of cuts evokes the ballet-like performance of the artist’s process, which conceived this monumental work. A treasured part of a European private collection, this is the first time this majestic work has been seen by the public for almost fifty years.
This work presages Fontana’s Ambiente Spaziale, executed only a year later for which the artist was awarded the Grand Prize for Painting at the XXXIII Venice Biennale. This grand installation saw the artist taking his iconic gesture to a new level of ambition. Created in collaboration with the architect Carlo Scarpa, Fontana envisaged a white, luminous maze, filled with examples of his tagli. As Fontana explained to Pierre Restany: ‘I wanted to create a ‘spatial environment, by which I mean an environmental structure, a preliminary journey in which the twenty slits would be as if in a labyrinth containing blanks of the same shape and colour’ (L. Fontana, quoted in S. Whitfeld, Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., London, 1999, p. 200).
Fontana perceived space, movement and time to be the materials of this new art with his ‘cuts’ or tagli as the most elegant solution to his conceptual aims. Fontana’s solution created a three-dimensional object, existing in real space. As he once expounded, ‘what we want to do is to unchain art from matter, to unchain the sense of the eternal from the preoccupation with the immortal. 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’ (First Spatialist Manifesto, 1947, reproduced in E. Crispolti et al. (eds.), Lucio Fontana, Milan 1998, pp. 117-118). As the material realisation of his Spatialist theory, the present work contemplates infinity at the dawn of the Nuclear age. In 1947, Fontana returned to Italy from Argentina and emerged as a pioneer of the post- War avant-garde through the foundation of Spazialismo, a movement which took time, energy, space and matter as its fundamental elements. In articulating this radical vision, Fontana found white to be the ‘purest, least complicated, most understandable colour’, that which most immediately struck the note of ‘pure simplicity’, ‘pure philosophy’, ‘spatial philosophy’, ‘cosmic philosophy’ (J. van der Marck and E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, vol. I, Brussels 1974, p. 137). The heightened sense of drama implied through the brilliant white surface draws parallels with the act of creation. It is in the striking contrast between the pristine white luminosity of the surface and the darkness of the multiple voids in Concetto spaziale, Attese, that Fontana’s Spatial concept finds its best expression.
The large format of Concetto spaziale, Attese invokes the mystical dimension that the vast void of Space presents to Man. Fontana avidly followed the progress of human spacefight and he endeavoured to conceptually address the philosophical implications of these developments in his art. Man’s awareness of the vastness of the cosmos, and indeed of the Earth’s position at the edge of the Milky Way, was a breakthrough that demanded attention just as Galileo’s discoveries had centuries earlier. While his output had, since the publication of the Manifesto blanco in Argentina some twenty years earlier, been concerned with the future, with gestures and with opening new dimensions to the possibilities of art in the modern age, it was the Space Age that truly made an impact on the artist. The artist conceived his ‘Spatialist’ theory as the new path art needed to take in light of the ground-breaking discoveries the world had witnessed. One of the first to appreciate the ramifications of such radical developments, he eagerly sought to find a means of expressing the complex scientific and philosophical concepts within art. As he wrote, ‘the discovery of new physical powers, the conquest of matter and space gradually impose on man conditions which have never existed before the application of these discoveries to the various forms of life brings about a substantial transformation in our way of thinking. The painted surface, the erected stone, no longer have a meaning’ (Technical Manifesto, J. van der Marck and E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, vol. I, Brussels 1974, p. 15).
Pointing to the three-dimensional nature of the canvas, Fontana brings his earlier incarnation as a sculptor to the practice of painting, combining its different processes to forge a hybrid object that is no longer constrained by traditional classifications. In his Attese, Fontana sought to harness and portray space and energy, two invisible elements that were nonetheless crucial to all of life and all of art. Indeed, it is the spent energy of the artist himself that manifests itself in the slashes, in the cutting that we know took place in order to bring this work into existence. The link between light, energy, space and the infinity of outer space is clear from Fontana’s own words: ‘...beyond perspective... the discovery of the cosmos is a new dimension, it is infinity, so I make a hole in this canvas, which was at the basis of all the arts and I have created an infinite dimension... the idea is precisely that, it is a new dimension corresponding to the cosmos... The hole is, precisely, creating this void behind there... Einstein’s discovery of the cosmos is the infinite dimension, without end. And so here we have: foreground, middleground and background... to go further what do I have to do?...I make holes, infinity passes through them, light passes through them, there is no need to paint’ (L. Fontana, quoted in E. Crispolti, ‘Spatialism and Informel. The Fifties’, in E. Crispolti & R. Siligato (eds.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Milan, 1998, p. 146).
Fontana’s desire to create an art that remained relevant to the era of scientific discoveries in which he lived is evident in the gestures with which he created Concetto spaziale, Attese. These gestures capture the very essence of movement, the wake left by parting particles, the ripples in space and time. For the artist, the capturing of movement in art was the last frontier and one that had only become fully possible with recent scientific advancements. As Fontana noted in his Manifesto Blanco, ‘art continues to develop itself in the direction of movement the evolution of man is a march towards movement developed in time and space’ (L. Fontana, Manifesto Blanco, 1946, in R. Fuchs, Lucio Fontana: la cultura dell’occhio, exh. cat., Castello di Riovli, Rivoli, 1986, p. 79). The slashes, the movements of the arm and the knife, are themselves an artwork that exists not only in Space, but also in Time, a tribute to the world of science. The multiple cuts present here have a rhythm that hints at the artist’s energy, mirroring Man’s own interaction with space. In moving beyond the two-dimensions of the surface, Fontana allowed his materials to be integrated in to space itself. In this way, Fontana’s gesture captures the very essence of movement through the picture plane. The gesture, the opening of that space, is something that is not immortal but which, through its very irrevocability, is nonetheless eternal.