Gianni Brusacà, Portofino
Private Collection, Genova
Centro Tornabuoni, Florence
Private Collection, Milan
Saronno, Galleria Il Chiostro, Lucio Fontana, April – May 1993, illustrated in colour
Florence, Tornabuoni Arte, Maestri contemporanei – antologia scelta 1994, December 1993, p. 83, illustrated in colour
Milan, Tornabuoni Arte, Lucio Fontana, May 1996, p. 149, illustrated in colour
Genova, Palazzo Ducale, Lucio Fontana, Luce e colore, October 2008 – February 2009, p. 122, illustrated in colour
Enrico Crispolti, Fontana, Catalogo generale, Vol. II, Milan 1986, p. 694, no. 68 T 94, illustrated
Giovanni Prosperi, 'La vite oggettiva delle opera', Art Leader, A. II, No. 1, Osimo, January – February 1992, p. 8, illustrated in colour
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, Vol. II, Milan 2006, p. 886, no. 68 T 94, illustrated
Exh. Cat., New York, Gagosian Gallery, Lucio Fontana, Ambienti Spaziali, May – June 2012, p. 372, no. 398, illustrated in colour
Paradigmatic of a revolutionary gesture with a wide-reaching international influence, the present work is also very much in dialogue with the canonical Abstract Expressionist works that were produced in the contemporaneous post-war years. The act of cutting indexically captures gesture, similar to Jackson Pollock’s action paintings (drip paintings); the long vertical cuts formally resemble Barnett Newman’s iconic ‘zip’ in works such as Onement I (1948); and the juxtaposition of bright red with dark black recalls Mark Rothko’s resonating colour field paintings.
Just as Fontana was pushing the boundaries of painting’s relationship to material space, scientific advances were venturing into the cosmos. Throughout his lifetime, Fontana witnessed an escalation in scientific discoveries that lead up to the heated space race, starting with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in 1916, the splitting of the atom by Ernest Rutherford in 1919, Georges Lemaître’s Big Bang Theory in 1931, Robert Oppenheimer’s theorising on black holes, the launch of Sputnik by the USSR in 1957, and finally man’s first journey into space with Yuri Gagarin in 1961. Deeply influenced by these developments, Fontana’s tagli provided a way for him to work through his own ideas concerning the relationship between cosmic and material space. Just as Gagarin broke through the limits of the earth’s atmosphere to reveal the universe beyond, Fontana sliced through the canvas only to reveal enveloping darkness. In so doing, his transformative leap from a two to three-dimensional painting of space similarly invokes the discoveries of the scientific community, and their quest to understand the relationship between space and the fourth dimension, time. Herein, the telleta, which are black strips of gauze added to the backside of the canvas, are just as significant as the cuts themselves: they come to represent the blackness of outer space, an unexplored territory and the infinite dark unknown.
In the vastness of the universe, it is mind-boggling to conceive that we are made up of the same material – the basic atoms, molecules, and elements – of the stars and planets in the universe. The present work captures this awe-inspiring sense of looking outwards, beyond the atmosphere, but also looking inwards, beneath our own skin. The sharp cuts made into the red flesh of the canvas evoke a wound that has deeply saturated the surrounding area with blood. There is an underlying violence, then, to the present work that contemporaneously resonates with Christ’s wounds on the cross. Thus, while looking forward with hope to the future space age, Fontana’s work is also rooted in the past by maintaining a dialogue with the icons and artworks that came before in art history.
For Fontana, 1968 marked a decade since his initial conceptualisation and experimentation for the tagli series, and two years after his International Grand Prize for Painting at the XXXIII Venice Biennale where he exhibited an installation of pure white tagli. Through the radical action of cutting, Fontana physically, visually, and conceptually breaks with five-hundred years of tradition in Western art history (Erika Billeter, ‘Lucio Fontana: Between Traditional and Avant-Garde,’ in: Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Lucio Fontana 1899-1968: A Retrospective, 1977, p. 13). Rather than represent space in an illusionistic way on a flat picture plane, he cuts through the canvas to create a literal three-dimensional opening. What emerges from the destruction of the surface is a new innovative way to paint that re-conceptualises space in art.
Overall, Concetto Spaziale, Attese’s incredibly striking composition succeeds in keeping a series of conceptual tensions in parallel – as formally echoed by the three, crisp cuts running down this seductive red canvas. Simultaneously looking forwards and backwards in time, the present work also provokes us to look outwards, towards the stars, and inwards, within ourselves. It is a prime example of the manner in which Lucio Fontana was able to instigate a paradigm shift in post-war art, galvanising the discourse to keep up with concurrent progressions in space travel. It is works of this nature and of this exceptional quality and rarity that have installed Fontana’s oeuvre at the pinnacle of Italian post-war art.
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