Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1970
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo Ragionato di Sculture, Dipinti, Ambientazioni, Vol. II, Milan 2006, p. 891, no. 68 T 130, illustrated
Fontana worked in a wide range of vibrant hues – red, green, blue, pink, yellow – but white was the purest expression of his art. He also experimented with the size and shape of his tagli and created paintings with varying numbers of cuts. The present work is one of twenty white canvases executed with four large cuts that were produced between 1966-68. The creation of white tagli marked a particular concern for Fontana in 1966 when he designed an immersive spatial environment adorned with white tagli for the 1966 Venice Biennale – an installation that won him the grand prize. Through their placement on the walls of the cloister-like spaces, Fontana meditatively explored the interplay between destruction and creation through the primacy of the pure white canvas ground – a dialogue further explored in the present work.
In Concetto Spaziale, Attese progressions of rhythmic incisions dance across the canvas yet their asymmetrical angles counteract any sense of rigidity, standing in perfect balance with each other. Fontana created these iconic tagli on a damp canvas with singular downward movements using a stanley knife. He would then gently widen the incisions with his fingers and curve them inwards before applying black gauze to the reverse. This forceful puncturing appears simultaneously visceral and tactile; inciting a desire to touch the carefully softened edges where the canvas has been torn and manipulated. The overall effect is amplified by the play of light which illuminates and casts shadows over the uniformly hand-painted surface of the canvas.
Fontana’s radical canvas incisions exemplified his concept of ‘Spatialism’, an intellectual theory he first gave expression to in his 1946 treatise ‘Manifesto Blanco’. Through Spatialism, Fontana radically broke with art historical tradition via his engagement with space, overcoming the limitations of painting by cutting through the canvas to create three-dimensional openings. This in turn incorporated space in-front of and beyond the physical support; a literal and philosophical act that invites a theoretical dialogue with the fourth dimension. Herein Fontana re-contextualised space in original ways, drawing on spiritual ideas alluding to the cosmos, perpetual infinite darkness, and a deeper realm of nothingness. As Fontana once said: “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 Spatialism, Fontana extended a concept that twentieth-century Avant Garde artists were deeply motivated by: of reaching beyond earthly matter to search for an absolute truth. This concept of exploring the purest elements of painting – colour, line and form, in their fundamental state – radically proposed the high Modernism of Malevich’s Suprematist ‘Black Square’ and the Neoplastic ideals of Mondrian; yet it can be argued that Fontana ventured even further by moving beyond the static possibilities of paint on canvas to blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture. Very much inspired by the contemporary advancements of science and space travel, Fontana stated: “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).
This imposing yet serene work encapsulates the essence of Fontana’s artistic philosophy. Executed via a destructive and arguably annihilative gesture, these four powerful slashes summate an act that carved Fontana a pioneering and radically inventive position within the history of art.
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