- Lucio Fontana
- Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio
- signed; titled on the stretcher; signed on the reverse
- oil on canvas
Janlet Collection, Brussels
Acquired from the above by the previous owner in 2012
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lucio Fontana, 1972, no. 65
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Lucio Fontana, 1972, p. 232, no. 184, illustrated
Angel Crespo, ‘El pensamiento y la obra de Lucio Fontana’, Forma Nueva/el Inmueble, No. 14, March 1967, p. 55, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogue Raisonné des Peintures et Environments Spatiaux, Brussels 1974, Vol. I, p. 80, no. 63 FD 22, illustrated, Vol. II, p. 137, no. 63 FD 22, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Fontana: Catalogo Generale, Vol. II, Milan 1986, p. 469, no. 63 FD 22, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo Ragionato di Sculture, Dipinti, Ambientazioni, Vol. II, Milan 2006, p. 659, no. 63 FD 22, illustrated
Lucio Fontana quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1999-2000, p. 198.
In 1961 Yuri Gagarin changed the course of history when he travelled into space; two years later, Fontana announced the end of art as he knew it. This seminal moment in the history of mankind was the catalyst for Fontana’s greatest achievement, La Fine di Dio, a body of work that simultaneously heralded the end of an era and the dawn of a new one. Pregnant with potential yet eviscerated from the inside-out, these canvases represent the first artworks for an age that found itself thrust into the physical reality of the infinite abyss: Space. With this series – comprising a total of thirty-eight colossal ovoid canvases executed between 1963 and 1964 – Fontana achieved the ultimate manifestation of his life’s work. The mastermind behind Spatlialism poured all of his theorising, all of his achievements, and all of his innovation into the cratered topography of these human-scaled egg-shaped canvases. They are the culmination of a life dedicated to pioneering a new artistic format philosophically attuned to the rapid advancement of human intelligence; one that transcends pre-existing notions of what art is. Indeed, with these canvases Fontana posited the furthest most point of artistic expression for the Modern age. Marking a point of no return, they form an event horizon beyond which it is impossible to venture.
Conjuring the endless self-similar constellations that populate the blank vacuum of space, Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio (63 FD 22) is aggressive, unrelenting, and commanding. More than just a painting, it is a multi-dimensional work of art that shatters the very definition of oil on canvas. Standing before it we are confronted with violently punched, stabbed, gashed, gouged and viscerally hacked welts of encrusted canvas that have been saturated with slick black oil. Its surface is lunar, and akin to the dark side of the moon, is ravaged yet ebullient in its organic beauty. The slender graffiti border etched into the painting’s thick black sheen confines the panorama of epic cavities within; limited to the outer reaches of its curving perimeter these punctures embody galactic black holes that pull celestial objects into their deathly orbit. Within the series at large, this painting is one of only two created in slick black paint; where the other, (63 FD 7), possesses a more lyrical calm and measured distribution of the squarchi, the present work is replete with violent material facture. In its magnetic and muscular intensity this painting is unmatched across the entire astral corpus of egg-canvases and rightly deserves veneration alongside the numerous Fine di Dio today on view in some of the most significant museum collections across the globe: namely, Fondazione Prada, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and the Centre Pompidou. Having resided for many decades in the esteemed Janlet Collection, Belgium, this immaculate painting possesses an impeccable history. Exhibited only a handful of times since its inception, Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio is a perfect manifestation of Fontana’s most profound contribution to the history of art.
Spanning a chromatic spectrum that symbolically invokes human flesh (pink), the planet earth (green), lunar dust (works coated in coloured ‘lustrini’ or glitter), and finally the non-colour of the abyss itself (black), the Fine di Dio are primal, elemental works, works that compress a holistic intimation of the beginning and the end within their curving expanses. The first Fine di Dio to be exhibited were a group of eight entirely green and pink canvases made in the winter of 1963. They were shown at the Gimpel Hanover Galerie in Zurich and deploy a more measured facture in contrast to those created later that year. Indeed, as evinced by the present work, the increasing aggression and full compositional resolution of these later canvases more fully conveys the radical ‘breakthrough’ and cosmic birth at the conceptual and physical core of these astonishing Spatialist inventions. Herein, Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio delivers the most fundamental expression of this truly earth-shattering dialogue. A canvas of deepest black – the achromatic visual register of space’s vacuum – mysteriously pock-marked with artillery-like holes that betray the trace of its creator’s fists and fingers, this imposing painting reflects the threatening mystery of space itself, an entity proven by the Twentieth-Century’s brightest intellects to be as volatile and chaotic as Fontana’s ravaged pictorial fields. In this regard, the present work can be viewed as the most absolute pictorial articulation of the universe in its enigmatic and chaotic entirety.
Fontana was profoundly influenced by the dramatic developments in science that punctuated his lifetime. In this regard, the Fine di Dio can be understood as his ultimate response to the promethean ascent of mankind. Charting a course starting in his childhood, some of the most significant advances in human history took place in front of Fontana’s very eyes: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (1916); the splitting of the Atom by Ernest Rutherford (1919); Georges Lemaître’s Big Bang theory (1931); J. Robert Oppenheimer’s theorising on black holes (1939); the discovery of nuclear fission by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann (1938); the launch of Sputnik by the USSR (1957); the first manned journey into space (Yuri Gagarin in 1961); and man’s first spacewalk (Aleksey Leonov in 1965), are but a select number of the radical innovations and catastrophic scientific discoveries that fuelled Fontana’s aesthetic genius. For him, scientific innovation of the Twentieth Century had liberated humanity from the constraints of an established order, one tied to the materiality of earthly existence and farcical ideologies. Instead, upon the discovery of man’s utter insignificance in the face of space’s infinity, Fontana looked to regenerate the plastic arts to encompass the harsh and threatening reality of the void.
In 1916, when Fontana was 17 years old, Albert Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity, and in so doing permanently transformed modern science’s conception of space, time, and gravity. According to Einstein, matter causes space to curve; he also posited that gravity, in opposition to Newton’s law, is not a force, but is instead a curved field sculpted by the presence of mass. Paired with cosmologist (and Catholic priest) Georges Lemaître’s proposal of the expansion of the universe from an initial point in 1931, Einstein’s theorising of spacetime conceived a model of the universe that today takes the form of a three-dimensional ovoid. That Lemaître famously described his Big Bang theory in a scientific paper as “the Cosmic Egg exploding at the moment of creation” does much to underline the perspicacity of Fontana’s extraordinary egg-shaped canvases.
With these remarkable developments in cosmology and physics, man’s first steps into the unknown began to take on a truly tangible reality towards the mid Twentieth-Century. Thus for Fontana – and somewhat indebted to the aspirational legacy of Futurism – the will to aesthetically respond to the scientific took on a marked urgency. The artist officially laid out these ideas as early as the First Spatialist Manifesto of 1947: “We refuse to think of science and art as two distinct phenomena… Artists anticipate scientific deeds, scientific deeds always provoke artistic deeds” (Lucio Fontana, ‘Primo Manifesto dello Spazialismo (First Spatialist Manifesto)’, 1947 in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1999-2000, p. 185). In 1961, man’s first journey into the vacuum of space ignited an ambition to create a conceptually challenging body of work imbued with the very same spirit of cosmic exploration, reflective of man’s position on the brink of an infinitely large (and expanding) universe.
Working in parallel with the scientific labour behind man’s first cosmic steps, Fontana toiled for more than a decade on his Spatialist theories before arriving at the Fine di Dio. Universally designated under the umbrella title Concetto Spaziale, this prolific abstract oeuvre developed through a sequence of evolving corpuses: the Buchi (Holes), Pietre (Stones), Gessi (Chalks), Inchiostri (Inks), Olii (Oils), Tagli (Cuts), Nature (Natures) and finally the Metalli (Metals). Of foundational import at the forefront of this list is Fontana’s discovery of the hole in 1949. Indeed the buchi represent the point of departure from which the entirety of Fontana’s theorising on the dimensionality of space takes off: “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” (Lucio Fontana quoted in: Carla Lonzi, Autorittrato, Bari 1969, pp. 169-71). By radically penetrating the very surface of the canvas – the field of an entire history of aesthetics and pictorial invention – Fontana radically surpassed any concession to reflecting life in art and instead invited its reality to inhabit the very essence of his work. Expanding on this premise, Fontana ventured beyond his perforation of the canvas and first implored the precise economy of the razor-blade’s cut, or tagli, in 1958. Entitled Concetto Spaziale, Attese (Spatial Concept, Expectations) the tagli are not only meditative by name, they exude an innate lyrical calm that invokes a silent and resonating glimpse of the fourth-dimensional void beyond their slender cuts. Leaving no trace of the artist’s hand, these works fully realised Fontana’s ambition to create a painting of real space, using real space. With the onset of the Olii two years later however, a dramatic shift is apparent in the artist’s mind-set. Combining the pinprick perforations of the buchi with the forceful downwards-drag of the tagli, the Olii contain visceral and distinctly sculptural apertures within canvases thickly impasted with oil paint. Wound-like and gaping, these painful-looking gashes induce a biological reading that addresses the viewer’s own bodily experience.
Concurrently, the increasing prevelance of the very real physical conditions of space conjured a new host of troublesome and painful realities in Fontana’s imagination, not least for the astronauts who endured these extremes at the hands of scientific discovery. As time and experience has proven, the biological impact of zero gravity provokes a number of health issues for astronauts, including extreme radiation exposure, motion sickness, and loss of muscle and bone mass, whilst extreme confinement and solitude takes its own psychological toll. In December of 1962, Fontana explained the increasing violence of his own work in these very terms: “They represent the pain of man in space. The pain of the astronaut, squashed, compressed, with instruments sticking out of his skin, is different from ours… He who flies in space is a new type of man, with new sensations, not least painful ones” (Lucio Fontana quoted in: ibid., p. 197). For Fontana, it was this rumination on the human endurance of space’s torment that changed the tone of his practice. Working through the Olii and their powerfully somatic impact, La Fine di Dio hone in on the agony of cosmic man and confront the embodied human experience of the viewer on a more profound and holistic scale. Each towering 178cm high these paintings impart an extraordinary corporeal viewing encounter; not only do they replicate Fontana’s own stature, they also echo the height of the average viewer. Moulded into a giant egg – an organic shape that suggests our own biological origin – the appearance of these canvases is remarkably human. Indeed, the traumatic evidence of bruised punches and stabbing finger holes in the present work’s surface is further evidence of the distinctly corporeal aspect of these astral bodies. Nonetheless, it is through the very shape of these canvases and their visceral trace of human impact that the Fine di Dio draw their enigmatic and macrocosmic power.
Replete with craters, pocks, and holes rent through by the artist’s bare hands, these works – and particularly the present Fine di Dio – immediately call to mind a moonscape ravaged over millions of years by the onslaught of meteorite collisions. Significantly, with these works, Fontana had truly begun to fulfil the premonition he laid out in the 'First Spatialist Manifesto' (1947) that “artists anticipate scientific deeds” (Ibid., p. 46). As curator Sarah Whitfield has noted, the Fine di Dio arrived a good twelve months before Ranger 7 sent back the first photographs of the scarred and eviscerated dark side of the moon (Ibid.). Whitfield’s list of intimations stretches even further when comparing the tactile darkness of space with the abyssal blackness of the present work: its midnight schema of circular punctures cast lunar shadows whilst the frayed and glutinous edges of these ruptures suggest “vast extremes of temperature in space between frozen landscapes and surfaces hot enough to melt lead” (Ibid.). Ultimately the encapsulation of the viewer’s body within these paintings operates to bring the realisation of space’s violence and “atrocious unnerving silence” into sharp and immediate focus (Lucio Fontana quoted in: Ibid., p. 36). Within the present work, the serene surface of slick black paint and balance of the composition – in which celestial forms appear to dance and orbit – is counteracted by the ferocious life-force that ruptures the canvas’ surface, as though echoing the very formation of immeasurable galaxies.
It is this very internal disruption however that offsets a reading of embodied homogeneity within these organic and corporal egg-shaped forms. As further explicated by art historian Anthony White: “Instead of the pregnant fullness of perfect form, the canvas reflects a body that appears broken and hollow… Thus the theory of nothingness, which was central to the conception of the Nature sculptures, is also at the heart of the End of God series… Contemplating the nothingness within these oval paintings, one is shocked into a stark awareness of the object’s, and by extension, the body’s physical morbidity” (Anthony White, Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2011, p. 260). With the advent of space exploration, Fontana prophesised that mankind, overcome by the immensity of space, would no longer recognise himself in figurative painting; in accord, he declared the need for a new artistic language entirely removed from verisimilitude and more radical than the aims of modernist abstraction. “Now in space there is no longer any measurement” explained Fontana, “Now you see infinity… in the Milky Way, now there are billions and billions… The sense of measurement and of time no longer exists… and so, here is the void, man is reduced to nothing. By this I do not mean that man, reduced to nothing, destroys himself, he becomes a simple being like a plant, like a flower, and as such he is pure, man will be perfect” (Lucio Fontana, ‘Interview with Carla Lonzi’, Milan 10 October 1967, in: Exhibition Catalogue, Milan, Amadeo Porro Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Lucio Fontana: Seidici sculture 1937-1967, 2008, p. 34). With this series Fontana renounces all that is earthly and thus proclaims ‘The End of God’: a title as grandiloquent as the philosophical portent behind this most profound body of work.
Through the Fine di Dio Fontana confronted over a century’s worth of philosophy that had announced mankind’s outgrowth of religion and yet knowingly employed a symbol with two millennia’s worth of Christian association. In art history the egg is the principal shorthand for Christ’s resurrection and more generally signifies fertility, hope, regeneration, and the cycle of life. From the graphic sign of femininity in Egyptian hieroglyphs to its symbolic depiction by canonical artists such as Hieronymus Bosch, Piero della Francesca, Diego Velázquez, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, and Constantin Brancusi, imagery of the ovum has long delivered variously esoteric semiotic interpretations associated with the origin of the world (a metaphor further reiterated by Georges Lemaître when he proposed that the universe began with an exploding cosmic egg). Intriguingly, from this symbolic perspective, the egg also represents a zero: the ovoid outline of its numerical sign encircles an absence, a vacuum, a nothing. In corroboration with the contemporaneous work of his ZERO artist counterparts, Fontana proposed a symbolic end in a shape that fundamentally contains a nothingness. Fontana’s conception of the ‘End of God’ is thus a double sided negation and affirmation that in its heralding of man’s new cosmic dimension and a new beginning for artistic expression, signals the expiration of an old order. By announcing the end, the Fine de Dio fundamentally propose a reformed conception of ‘God’ for the cosmic age and astral ascent of mankind. Indeed, with a fecund promise of a new aesthetic beginning also comes the seed of art’s demise: “In 500 years’ time people will not talk of art... art will be like going to see a curiosity… Today man is on earth and these are all things that man has done while on earth, but do you think man will have time to produce art while travelling through the universe? He will travel through space and discover marvellous things, things so beautiful that things here – like art, will seem worthless… Man must free himself completely from the earth, only then will the direction that he will take in the future become clear. I believe in man’s intelligence – it is the only thing in which I believe, more so than in God, for me God is man’s intelligence – I am convinced that the man of the future will have a completely new world” (Lucio Fontana in conversation with Tommaso Trini, 19 June 1968, in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1988, p. 36). Heretical in title yet far from atheistic, these extraordinary paintings leave behind the earthly, and in tandem with the astronauts’ first steps into the abyss, herald a new era for mankind that although threatening in its nihilistic portent is nonetheless optimistic.
Condensed within the cratered topography of this painting’s monochrome surface resides the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega of existence. At its very core Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio proposes a new model for mankind – no longer the earth-bound man of material possessions, but man as a cosmic being on the brink of the unknowable void. La Fine di Dio posits what no art work had done before; it articulates the genesis of a new form of expression reflective of the astral age.