From his first, radical incision of the canvas, Fontana’s iconic rupture of the picture plane in the tagli paintings constituted a seminal redefinition of the conception of space within art. In their ritualistic gestural bravura, Fontana’s cuts drew upon the increasing focus on action and performance art building in Italy during 1957-58; although the artist embarked upon the first paintings of the series at the end of 1950s, however, the creative inception of his revolutionary tagli (cuts) and their predecessors, the buchi (holes), was articulated as early as 1946 in Fontana's artistic treatise Manifesto Blanco. There, Fontana proposed the concept of Spatialism, which sought to articulate the fourth dimension by instigating a radical dialogue between technology and the very ‘dimensionality’ of painting. Fontana’s innovative conceptual creed expounded upon the theories of earlier Italian Futurists: “Let us open up the figure like a window and close within it the environment in which it lives.” (Lucio Fontana, "Manifesto Blanco," cited in Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Ragionato, Vol. II, Milan, 2006, p. 19) Echoing this sentiment in Manifesto Blanco, Fontana appreciatively remarks, “Futurism adopts movement as the only beginning and the only end.” (Lucio Fontana, "Manifesto Blanco," cited in Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Ragionato, Vol. II, Milan, 2006, p. 19) As Fontana began again in the creation of the present Concetto Spaziale, Attesa, his blade ineluctably rupturing the radiant surface of the picture plane in pursuit of a new frontier of painterly process, he achieved immediate notoriety for what would become the most radical and categorically groundbreaking artistic gesture of recent art history.
While the breathtaking schism of Concetto Spaziale, Attesa enacts a victorious overturn of the dominant aesthetic dogma of Renaissance spatial reasoning, the shimmering radiance of the golden canvas recalls the magnificent opulence which characterizes the gilded ornamental programs of religious antiquity, wherein precious materials signified the presence of the divine. Unmistakably wrought by a human hand, the slim fissure of the tagli through the luminous surface of the present work powerfully recalls the stigmata gouged into innumerable gilded altarpieces, the dark caesura a contemporary echo of the wounds of Christ on the cross. Fontana remarks, “My cuts are above all a philosophical statement, an act of faith in the infinite, an affirmation of spirituality. When I sit down to contemplate one of my cuts, I sense all at once an enlargement of the spirit, I feel like a man freed from the shackles of matter, a man at one with the immensity of the present and of the future.” (The artist quoted in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006, p. 23) The indisputable tension between unity and rupture, beauty and brutality, transcendent serenity and unspeakable violence in Concetto Spaziale, Attesa appropriates the divine consequence of centuries old religious iconography in a thrilling inquiry of the infinite cosmos: an altarpiece for the modern age.
Exemplifying the central tenets of Fontana’s celebrated career, Concetto Spaziale, Attesa enacts a fascinating dialogue between the richly sensual golden canvases of his Venice cycle of 1961 and the dazzling metallic sheets of his commanding New York metal works, executed simultaneously to the present work. Describing the allure metal held, as both medium and muse, for Fontana, scholar Luca Massimo Barbero remarks, “The artifice of metallic color, its mimetic, symbolic, reflective quality, had always fascinated Fontana: metal, the way light reflects from it and at the same time penetrates, revealing its plasticity, had always represented a challenge for him…The silver and gold-colored Oils perfectly illustrate that sculptural ambiguity of his painting”. (Exh. Cat., Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2007, p. 24) Inspired by the island of gilded devotional wonders, the lavishly shimmering surfaces of the Venice paintings, their façades inlaid with vibrant shards of Murano glass, recall the mosaics of St. Mark’s and the exalted splendor of the Byzantines; in contrast, the rippling copper, brass and aluminum expanses of the Metals powerfully invoke the soaring skyscrapers, roaring machinery, and immense mass of New York, summoning the metropolis as thrilling fulfillment of a Futurist dream. In both cycles, as in the present work, the emphatic gesture of Fontana’s descending blade ruptures the lavish metallic surface, serving as both homage and challenge to these enduring emblems of man’s triumph over architectural space. Building upon these earlier impressions, the refined elegance of Concetto Spaziale, Attesa articulates the Spatialist Manifesto upon a universal scale, Fontana’s iconic rupture amplified beyond a single time or space; reflecting upon the tagli several years after the creation of the present work, Fontana concluded: “With the tagli, I have invented a formula that I think I cannot perfect…. I succeeded in giving those looking at my work a sense of spatial calm, of cosmic rigor, of serenity with regard to the Infinite. Further than this I could not go.” (The artist cited in Pia Gottschaller, Lucio Fontana: The Artist’s Materials, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 58) Precisely scoring the immaculate golden ground, the exquisite precision of the dark schism ruptures the taut picture plane with unspeakable force, the mark of Fontana’s blade encapsulating tradition, modernity, and the infinite in a single deliberate gesture.
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