Lucio Fontana, Dolphins, 1944. Collection Darwin and Geri Reedy.
© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome.
ASPEN - Sometimes it’s the small exhibitions that are the most eye opening. Lucio Fontana: Ceramics, on view at the Aspen Art Museum until October 7th, certainly qualifies. Even though there are only 10 works in the show, it upends our notions about the Argentine-born Italian artist Fontana (1899–1968) – and does it economically (Admission is free courtesy of John and Amy Phelan), so that visitors can still get outside to enjoy the mountain air in one of the world’s great late-summer resort destinations.
Fontana is today remembered best for one very clever conceptual move – dramatically slashing his canvases. Examples of his long-running series from the 1950s and 60s have brought , as collectors still acknowledge them as seminal artworks.
So why show his ceramics? Aspen museum director and chief curator Heidi Zuckerman, who put the show together, has an easy answer: “For people who are committed to the slash paintings – he did that in ceramics first,” she tells me. (And she even included one great red slash painting in the show too just for fun, Concetto Spaziale Attese, 1960.)
Lucio Fontana, Fondo del Mar, ca. 1940’s. Glazed ceramic
Courtesy of Thomas H. Lee and Ann Tenenbaum, New York.
“Ceramics were a place of great creativity for him,” Zuckerman says. “Some of the pieces seem to be totally abstract, but the more you look, the more you can pull a figure out. And you can really see the aritst’s hand.” That’s true of the bright-blue Dolphins, 1964, with its inviting folds and ridges.
All of the works in the show are loans, and getting them to Aspen wasn’t easy. “They’re so fragile,” says Zuckerman, who hatched an elaborate plan to have each one hand-carried on its journey, in the hopes of bypassing normal airport security practices. But that was a no-go. “The TSA was not very flexible – surprise, surprise,” she jokes. “In the end they went on trucks like normal – but with great care.”