Concetto spaziale of 1955 is a stunning manifestation of the groundbreaking aesthetic and conceptual investigations that Lucio Fontana had been singularly committed to since first puncturing a canvas in 1949. With impeccable provenance and having first been exhibited in 1956, this sublime work epitomizes a revolutionary shift in art history that occurred at the middle of the last century. Fontana first applied pieces of glass to the painted surface of his canvases in 1952, initiating his pietre (stones) series, amongst which this is an outstanding example due to its impressive scale, serene organization of compositional elements and beautiful color. A lyrical procession of royal blue glass stones cascades down the vertical composition over viscous drips of ultramarine lacquer, into a constellation of pure white fragments emerging out of a radiating burst of flecked white oil paint. At the same time the entire surface of the warm natural canvas has been repeatedly punctured by Fontana’s visceral attack to create a field of bucchi (holes). While Jackson Pollock famously deposited aggregations of paint onto the horizontal surface of his canvases, Fontana attacked the entire convention of the canvas as a three-dimensional object, and indicated its destruction by physically breaking through the picture plane. Having initially followed in his father's path and apprenticed as a sculptor, Fontana possessed an intuitive understanding of conceiving form within three dimensions, which is exhibited here through the diametrically opposed forces of the surface. Cast across the canvas by the artist's hand like sown seeds, the semi-random disposition of pietri punctuates the monochrome with lyrical patterns and implied symmetries while their jagged irregularity breaks away from the painted planar surface and gives the work a fundamentally sculptural identity. The dominant circular dynamic of the glass stones is immediately evocative of the spiraling Milky Way galaxy; an analogy that presciently parallels the earliest investigations into Space exploration that were starting to happen at that time and became so important to both Fontana's aesthetic and Spatialist philosophy.
A symphony of simultaneous penetration and eruption, the surface of Concetto spaziale scintillates with the tension of exactly diametric forces. Punctured and exploding, this pitted landscape is both regressive and aggressive, submissively inviting and assertively threatening. The geometric bucchi pierce a window into an unknown space beyond, while the irregular glass pietre are a sculptural assault on space in front of the picture plane. As Anthony White has explained, "The Spatial Concept engaged the viewer with an opulent vision of radiance that extended into real architectural space beyond the limited and private pictorial plane." (Anthony White, "Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch," Grey Room, no. 5, Autumn 2001, p. 70) While the opaque ochre of the canvas and swirling lyrical patterns preoccupy our field of view, the lightless intensity of the punched fissures draw our retina as keyholes to the spatial infinity beyond the canvas. The ganzfeld, or total-field, color suffusion of this work vies with the jagged extremity of the punctuating and beautiful fragments of semi-translucent glass, which phosphoresce like jewels breaking through the monochrome ground. The visceral potency of Concetto spaziale, together with its philosophical project to undermine the precedent of subject-based art, is sufficiently transfixing to suggest "that underlying all of Fontana's art is the desire to find an imagery universal enough in its appeal to usurp centuries of Christian symbolism." (Sarah Whitfield in Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1999, p. 46)
Ultimately it is in the invention of a wholly new dialect that secures the historic significance of this remarkable sculpted-painting. Fontana's punctures serve as apertures onto the concept of the never-ending: with material rupture Concetto spaziale moves not only beyond painting, but also beyond present time and space. This enthralling work confronts the possibilities of an indefinable sculpture in an unknowable space beyond the picture plane. Concetto spaziale is both a crescendo of Fontana's cycles to date, as well as the portentous precursor to and facilitator of his furthering of Spatialism with such iconic series as La Fine di Dio, which were to stem directly from this early triumph.
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