Sale: Sotheby's, London, Post War and Contemporary Art, 28 June 1990, Lot 63
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
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
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.
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