Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale, 1960. At the 20th Century Art sale 17 October at Sotheby's London. Estimate 1,000,000 to 1,400,000 GBP.
The 20th Century Italian Art sale at Sotheby's London on 17 October comes at a moment when interest the genre is riding high – the Guggenheim in New York will be hosting an exhibition of Italian Futurist works early next year and a celebration of Alberto Burri the year after; Sotheby’s in New York, in addition to a selling exhibition of the work of Giuseppe Penone at the moment, will feature a key collection of Futurism in the November sale of Impressionist & Modern art; while Sotheby’s Milan will focus on Italian art in the same month.
The London sale is timed to coincide with the annual Frieze art week, when the art world descends on the city, for the annual. As we have been hanging the galleries in the week prior to the sale, this relative calm before the storm has given me the opportunity to have a little time with the works.
What immediately stands out is the overriding creativity and innovation in Italian art in the 20th century, be it the elegance of a Marino Marini bronze, the sedate calm of a Giorgio Morandi still life, the startling slashed and punctured canvases of Lucio Fontana or the installations of the leading Arte Povera artists such as Alighiero Boetti, Mario Merz and Giulio Paolini.
Within this group some specific works do stand out for me. Fontana’s rich yellow Concetto Spaziale cannot fail to, given its impressive size and colour, but also because of its context within the artist’s work. Created in 1960, Concetto Spaziale assimilates the most important motifs of Fontana’s career – the egg, the sun, the puncture – with thickly modelled paint. As the artist himself said: “For me, they are perforated canvases that represent sculpture, a new fact in sculpture”.
Another personal highlight is a group of works from the collection of the late Stanley J. Seeger. Dedicated in his pursuit of the finest works, Seeger’s collecting encompassed everything from Joseph Conrad manuscripts to Francis Bacon portraits and, in this sale, his approach to collecting Italian art displays the same devotion to quality. Among the works by Piero Manzoni, Afro and Alberto Burri, the latter’s Bianco-Rosso (T T X) from 1954 was acquired by Seeger – then only 25 – a year after its creation and appeared in the 1961 exhibition of his collection at Princeton, his alma mater. It is a measure of Seeger’s acumen as he acquired such a fine work of Burri’s at such an early stage in his collecting career.
So, after all the photography, researching and cataloguing, the galleries are open for viewing. It is hugely exciting to see these works finally coming up for sale as we enter the last stage, bringing a little taste of Italy to collectors in Frieze week.