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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 siamo andati a vedere le corse su strada on the reverse
waterpaint on canvas
92 by 73cm.; 36 1/2 by 28 3/4 in.
Executed in 1965.
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Provenance

Private Collection, Italy

Sale: Sotheby's, London, Post War and Contemporary Art, 28 June 1990, Lot 63

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

Literature

Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogue Raisonné des Peintures et Environments Spatiaux, Vol. II, Brussels 1974, p. 166, no. 65 T 111, illustrated

Enrico Crispolti, Fontana: Catalogo Generale, Vol. II, Milan 1986, p. 580, no. 65 T 111, illustrated

Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo Ragionato di Sculture, Dipinti, Ambientazioni, Vol. II, Milan 2006, p. 765, no. 65 T 111, illustrated

Catalogue Note

At the height of his career, Fontana announced the purest expression of his revolutionary approach to painting and sculpture by piercing a pristine white canvas with a razor blade. Embodying an exquisite manifestation of this act, Concetto Spaziale, Attese comprises a stunning choreography of five vertical cuts through a pristine white canvas. The stark contrast between the blackness of his vertical incisions and the quietly radiating white, illustrates Fontana’s prime concern of space, gesture and light. Through these three components the Italo-Argentinian artist sought to explore a new dimension that opened up a space beyond the flat surface of the traditional two dimensional canvas plane. Amidst the wide variety of works articulated in a multitude of colours with numerous cuts in varying scales, the present example forcefully delivers an essential articulation of Fontana’s art.

Acclaimed as the greatest exponent of Italian art to emerge from the post-war era, Lucio Fontana’s trademark became the act of tearing through the monochrome picture plane, thereby actuating a space distinct from the reality of the viewer. These became known as Concetti Spaziali. Fontana’s signature gesture, the cut, though seemingly impulsive, was the result of a long, rational and surgical pursuit of a precise aesthetic. By carefully aligning the five cuts, which almost seem to dance across the picture plane, the artist provides a glimpse of a seemingly infinite void behind the canvas.

The consolidation of his artistic aims in this single form was reflected in his major exhibitions at the Venice Biennale in 1966, when he displayed several large-format white Tagli, and subsequently at Documenta IV in Kassel in 1968, where he positioned a huge white plaster slash within a floor-to-ceiling white labyrinth. The latter presentation of his incision within a maze emphasised the act of searching, and of discovering a truth beyond the painted veil.

Thanks to Fontana’s continuous and restless creative research, his canvases are able to communicate magic, purity, eroticism, grace, violence, abstraction and ethics at once – something that Chagall coined as chimie some twenty years earlier. Indeed, Fontana was able to transform violent action into revolutionary artwork, by devising a system to preserve the freshness of the rupture: a simple black gauze on the back of the cut marks the final gesture in a symbolic break with the great painters of art history. However, far from an act of destruction, Fontana’s knifing of the canvas led to its transformation rather than to its demise. The drastic act of cutting, though physically irreversible bestows a conceptual transfiguration, an act that allows light to penetrate the darkness, and the darkness to enter the light.

By doing so, Fontana succeeds in combining the three-dimensional field of artistic practices with the two-dimensional one. The piercing of the canvas is the act that transmutes the painting into sculpture: Concetto Spaziale Attese protrudes outward towards the observer whilst also intimating an infinite void beyond the picture plane. Due to the temporality inherent within the creative act of slicing, the chronological dimension is added whilst blurring into the third dimension. This revolutionary act ruptures tradition and imparted a new form of artistic expression that reaches into a fourth dimension. In the words of Fontana: “With the slash I invented a formula that I don't think I can perfect. I managed with this formula to give the spectator an impression of spatial calm, of cosmic rigour, of serenity in infinity” (Lucio Fontana, quoted in:  Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo Ragionato di Sculture, Dipinti, Ambientazioni, Vol. I, Milan 2006, p. 105).

This act is the culmination of the most precise of preparation processes. Fontana would choose his canvases very meticulously, having them made to order with specific instructions. He would then prime them and paint them with utmost care to eliminate any brushstroke marks. When the canvas was ready, he would stand in front of it, alone, the climax of the creative process having arrived. With a quick gesture, the artist perforated the pictorial surface with his knife; the motion of the blade lay suspended, captured in the canvas forever in time. Concetto Spaziale, Attese seizes this moment repeatedly and rhythmically, the cuts flowing in lyrical arrangement.

Fontana’s painterly method involved carefully and evenly layering several coats of the same pigment. In the use of a single colour for his sliced canvases, Fontana was decisive in his choice of an undisturbed monochromatic ground, seeing this as the most direct way to communicate his unique visual philosophy. With the themes of space, gesture and light occupying the centre of Fontana’s interest in the exploration of a fourth dimension, the artist considered the use of multiple coloured elements for the Concetti Spaziali as merely distracting. The white canvas thus functions as the purest and most proficient catalyst for Fontana’s fourth dimension. Photographs documenting Fontana’s iconic contribution to the 1966 Venice Biennale emphatically deliver this point. Furnished solely by the single-slash white tagli, Fontana designed and curated an entirely white Ambienti Spaziale (Spatial Environment). Their configuration bespeaks an atmosphere of holiness, conflating the gallery room with a light-flooded chapel; the once-traditional canvases transformed into objects of meditative power were here presented in venerative recesses. While not strictly a colour itself, White contains the entirety of the electromagnetic spectrum and thus represents a metaphor for light itself. Thus possessing boundless and infinite symbolic value, the white Concetti Spaziali posit the ultimate way to embrace Fontana’s extraordinary contribution to the history of art.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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