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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Lucio Fontana
1899 - 1968
CONCETTO SPAZIALE, ATTESE
signed, titled and inscribed oggi è venuto Chasca on the reverse
waterpaint on canvas
80.5 by 100cm.; 31 7/8 by 39 3/8 in.
Executed in 1965.
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Provenance

Galerie Pierre, Stockholm

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1966

Literature

Dora Vallier, l’Art Abstrait, Paris 1967, p. 291, no. 194, illustrated

Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogue Raisonné des Peintures et Environments Spatiaux, Vol. II, Brussels 1974, p. 160, no. 65 T 44, illustrated

Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo Generale, Vol. II, Milan 1986, p. 565, no. 65 T 44, illustrated

Exhibition Catalogue, Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, (and travelling), Lucio Fontana, Retrospektive, 1996, p. 26, illustrated

Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo Ragionato di Sculture, Dipinti, Ambientazioni, Vol. II, Milan 2006, p. 754, no. 65 T 44, illustrated

Exhibition Catalogue, Genoa, Palazzo Ducale, Lucio Fontana: Luce e colore, 2009, p. 219, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Standing in front of the easel with his Stanley knife tentatively raised, Lucio Fontana poses as though deftly applying the finishing touches to one of the most extraordinary works of his career: Concetto Spaziale, Attese. The series of approximately twenty documentary photographs taken by Harry Shunk in 1965 have forever immortalised this Pygmalion moment. In these famous pictures one of the most pioneering artists of the late Twentieth Century invests one of his most significant creations with a life and vivacity entirely of its own. Concetto Spaziale, Attese is thus undeniably iconic in the truest sense of the word. These photographs represent one from only a handful of known instances that document the ‘moment’ of Fontana’s creation; indeed, Concetto Spaziale, Attese stands alone as the sole example used to elucidate Fontana’s working process from so many different angles of the artist’s Milanese studio. Though he would undoubtedly have completed this work before Harry Shunk’s photoshoot – itself an indicator of the artist’s success and high profile at the time – Fontana’s selection of this painting is testament to the esteem with which he personally regarded it. One year before winning the grand prize at the Venice Biennale, Fontana stands in front of this painting at the very crest of his creative powers.

Concetto Spaziale, Attese and the photographs disseminated of the moment of its genesis thus utterly define the quintessence of Lucio Fontana’s career: in the palette of white, Fontana forged a new dimension for painting in which past, present and future collapse within the immaculate and slender glimpses of a void beyond the picture plane. Comprising a bravura ballet of twenty-three flawless cuts incised into a pristine two-dimensional surface, there are only two other works that possess more incisions. Indeed, the largest number of cuts in any one painting by Fontana is twenty-four arranged in a single row, and these feature in a white painting and a very similar painting in red, both of which were also created in 1965. Rarely seen however, is the arrangement of incisions over two rows. In the present painting, this evokes an impressive jaw-like pressure upon a central band of pure white; the effect is mesmeric and equal only to the epitome of restrained expression defined by his suite of paintings possessing a single cut, exhibited in series at the fated 1966 Venice Biennale. Having remained in the same private collection since it was acquired by the present owners from Galerie Pierre, Stockholm in 1966, this famous yet never exhibited painting represents the very zenith of Fontana’s creative output and is an unquestionable masterpiece of the highest historical importance. Having never been formally exhibited, the appearance of this painting for the first time since it was first shown Galerie Pierre denotes an extraordinary moment of re-discovery.

Though following historical protocol for depicting the Romantic painter at work, in Harry Shunk’s photographs Fontana upturns tradition having subversively replaced the paintbrush for the razor blade. Reaching across a pristine expanse of pure white canvas, Concetto Spaziale, Attese heralds the end of the flat picture plane in what is quite simply one of the most radical gestures in art history. Indeed, the size of the painting and the unrivalled dynamism of its myriad cuts make this masterpiece an extremely rare testament to one of the most decisive breakthroughs in the history of art. Standing in line with other ground breaking masterworks of twentieth-century abstraction – from Malevich’s Black Square, Mondrian’s iconic formal distillations, Giacomo Balla’s tracing of time and movement in paint, through to Barnett Newman’s contemporaneously radical ‘zips’ – this painting arrives as a product of profound innovation and artistic revolution. What defines Fontana’s work however is not only a revolutionary new form of expression, but a triumphant marriage of the cutting edge and the historical via the restrained yet violent gesture of Fontana’s Stanley blade cut.

In 1947, Fontana founded Spatialism, an incredibly influential artistic movement that proposed a ground-breaking synthesis of the phenomenological realm as a new form of visual expression. The main principles, laid down in the very first Manifiesto Blanco, published in 1946 in Buenos Aires, outlined a new spirit for art, in tune with the post-war era, in which the traditional illusionism of oil painting was repudiated in favour of a unification of art and science. As outlined in the Manifiesto, Fontana stipulated the need for matter, colour, and sound to be enacted within ‘real’ space and time: “Colour, the element of space; sound, the element of time; and movement that develops in time and space; these are the fundamental forms of the new art that contains the four dimensions of existence” (Lucio Fontana, ‘Manifiesto Blanco’, 1946 in:  Guido Balla, Lucio Fontana, New York 1971, p. 189). This theorising would lay the foundation for the next twenty years of his practice, a period of production that significantly boasts the most important and esteemed works of the artist’s career.

Fontana’s ambition to visually activate space was certainly connected to his background as a sculptor; however, such a deviation of the flat picture plane was equally rooted in mankind’s collective striving for scientific and technological advancement. For instance, Albert Einstein’s fusion of time and space into one continuum is echoed in Fontana’s synthesis of dimensions. Via the seemingly abyssal slashes that permeate his canvases, Fontana symbolically suggests a dimension beyond both the two-dimensional canvas support and a three-dimensional, sculptural, suggestion of space. This fixation with unknowable dimensions should be understood against a contemporaneous context of cosmic exploration; at the same moment Fontana began his tagli, news stories of the 'space race' captivated audiences all over the world. Indeed, Fontana’s Spatialist theories echo an age utterly dominated by news of space exploration and discovery. In 1957 the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, into orbit; in 1959, the Soviets landed probe Luna 2 on the moon; and in 1961 the very first outer-space flight was made by Yuri Gagarin. The space race permeated political rhetoric internationally, establishing the moon as the next frontier for human exploration. With punctured picture planes and lacerated canvases Fontana hypothesised overturning accepted norms of three-dimensional Cartesian space by invoking and venturing into an abyssal and void-like fourth dimension. Hence Fontana’s statement that: “the discovery of the Cosmos is that of a new dimension, it is the Infinite: thus I pierce the canvas, which is the basis of all arts and I have created an infinite dimension, an x which for me is the basis for all Contemporary Art” (Lucio Fontana quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006, p. 19). Though embodying an art historically iconoclastic act, Concetto Spaziale, Attese simultaneously invokes a spirit of evolution and progression to engender an object of votive worship offered up to an era of conceptual innovation and radical technological progression.

In part, Fontana’s grasp of how technology could fundamentally redefine the boundaries of human existence, was indebted to the influence of Italian Futurism; as the Manifiesto Blanco had appreciatively stated: “Futurism adopts movement as the only beginning and the only end” (Lucio Fontana, 'Manifiesto Blanco', 1946, quoted in: Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Ragionato, Vol. II, Milan 2006, p. 19). For Fontana, Futurism rightly valued the forward progress of civilisation and acknowledged the implications of Einstein’s theories of relativity. Yet whereas this earlier twentieth-century movement obsessed over sleek industrial design and the sublime amalgamation of man and machine in the known world, Fontana perceived a different aspect of progress: the loneliness of vast, unexplored territories, the return to primordial states of becoming, and a mysterious fourth-dimension. However, though Fontana undoubtedly inherited Futurism’s high-modernist endeavour to bring forth a totally new art for a new era, the mechanical character and emphasis on speed/movement through urban space vital to their project is resolutely absent from the Spatialist enterprise. Instead, the wounded picture plane and the scars of his eloquently sliced canvases hark back to an established art historical legacy. Far from the Futurist’s bombastic insistence on burning down the libraries and flooding the museums to purge the oppressive past, Fontana’s Spatialism expresses a project of recognising the past and uniting it with the future. Though not speaking of any religious message, Fontana phrases his Spatialist journey in the context of Western art history. Delicately sliced through the pristine white canvas, the viewer is impelled to reach out, like Doubting Thomas, towards these lacerations. Via an act of transfiguration, the violence staged upon the picture plane grants access to the infinite dimension beyond the phenomenological. Enacted 23 times within Concetto Spaziale, Attese, this message is forcefully delivered both emphatically and powerfully.

As such, not only is Concetto Spaziale, Attese an unquestionable masterpiece from one of the most influential post-war artists, it is a historically fascinating document of an age in which the most fundamental notions of human existence came under intense scrutiny and were redefined in previously unthinkable ways. Elaborated across a field of unparalleled contemplative beauty, Lucio Fontana’s unmatched and ambitious contribution to the philosophical landscape of the post-war era marks Concetto Spaziale, Attese as a work of crucial art historical importance.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London