Palmisano Arte Moderna, Milan
Sotheby’s, London, 15 March 1995, Lot 425
Acquired from the above by the previous owner
Thence by descent to the present owner
After experimenting with the revolutionary buchi – or holes – from 1949 onwards, Fontana commenced his investigations with the tagli technique in 1958. What the founding father of the Spatialist movement achieved through his artistic research is the creation of conceptually rigorous yet aesthetically pleasing artworks, allowing science and art to unite and harmonise. Throughout the 1960s, the artist worked with a plethora of vivid hues such as blue, green, yellow, pink, and red – the last of which can be described as the most sought-after from the artist’s bold colour palette.
In Concetto Spaziale, Attese a pattern of evenly sized incisions rip through an immaculate scarlet canvas, and yet, their repartition is far from rigid or mechanical. On the contrary, a sense of organicism characterises their scattered presence and underlines the audacity of their very existence. Fontana created these tagli by using stanley knives that he would dexterously manipulate in his studio to swiftly stab, in singular descending gestures, his damp canvases. He would subsequently proceed to insert his fingers in each incision to widen the cut and to allow each band of freshly incised canvas to curl inwards. The final step consisted in applying black gauze to the reverse of the ruptured canvas in order to accentuate its impression of depth.
The illusion of the profundity of the incisions, amplified by the effect of overhead lighting and strategic curating, is intended to appeal to the viewer’s senses. Indeed, the softly undulating edges of the incised canvas exude a certain sensual tactility. The scarlet hue of the hand-painted canvas amplifies the work’s innate organicism, its vividness and intensity, evoking pulsating blood.
Fontana’s concept of Spatialism aimed to radically break with art historical traditions by engaging with space in novel ways; for example, by thinking beyond the two-dimensional surface of the canvas and cutting through it in order to generate three-dimensionality. This practice allowed the artist to render the manipulation of space the very subject of his work. As explained by Fontana: “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” (Lucio Fontana cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006, p. 23).
Through his engagement with Spatialism, which he elaborated upon in five manifestos written between 1947 and 1952, Fontana joined a pantheon of twentieth-century Avant Garde artists in their search for absolute truth by exploiting the purest elements of painting – namely colour and line. In contrast to his contemporaries, however, the Italian artist’s ground-breaking experimentation looked to blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture through incorporating the philosophical and scientific fourth-dimension of spacetime. As stated by the artist: “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 cited in: ibid., p. 19).
What the six incisions of Lucio Fontana’s blade in Concetto Spaziale, Attese powerfully communicate is not only the artist’s forceful desire to break with art historical tradition; they also provide viewers with an alluring and enticing invitation into modernity, the future, and the infinite.
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