Lot 3
  • 3

Lucio Fontana

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
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  • Lucio Fontana
  • Concetto Spaziale, Attese
  • signed, titled and inscribed La capitale del Giappone è Pekino - somaro on the reverse
  • waterpaint on canvas
  • 82 by 66cm.
  • 32 1/4 by 26in.
  • Executed in 1965-66.


Galerie Müller, Cologne
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1970


Krefeld, Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Sammlung Helga und Walther Lauffs - Amerikanische und europäische Kunst der sechziger und siebziger Jahre, 1983-84, p. 47, no. 105, illustrated in colour


Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. II, Brussels 1974, p. 186, no. 66 T 107, illustrated (with incorrect dimensions)
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Generale, Vol. II, Milan 1986, p. 649, no. 66 T 107, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Ragionato, Vol. II, Milan 2006, p. 844, no. 66 T 107, illustrated


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate although the overall tonality of the red is brighter and more vibrant in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. There are some very faint handling marks to the lower left edge and at the lower centre edge. No restoration is apparent under ultra violet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This sumptuous red variation on Fontana's signature Concetto Spaziale fuses together sensual intimations with the preoccupation at the core of Spatialism, the infinity of space. Exquisitely executed, the five lyrical slashes simultaneously evince spontaneity and control, choreographed into a rhythmic display under the aegis of Fontana's blade. The rich, saturated layer of red waterpaint allows the weave of the canvas to show through, insistently drawing attention to the materiality of the artwork. With a sculptor's sensibility, he discards conventional reverence for the canvas, and instead treats it as an artistic object in its own right. As an image of spatial reality, Fontana emphasises the canvas's presence with bold, invasive gesture. Here we have Fontana at the height of his powers, cutting directly into the canvas, creating a delicious contrast to the delicacy of the waterpaint.

These strokes of genius are the mark of great risk-taking in the studio. Not only did the canvas need to be perfectly taut for a successful result, the outcome depended on the moment of the chance of the performance. It was a case of one strike and out. Time being of the essence, the artwork's magnitude was extended to all four dimensions. The speed of the action recorded in this piece has the effect of 'killing time', while the clarity of the five linear strokes underlines the moment of their creation. Here the pattern of slashes across the canvas is a bravura show of the unrepeatable moment, repeated; the immediacy of the artist's gesture is suspended in time. This is, unusually, a symmetrical arrangement, emphasising the control in the work's creation: although it radiates with a sense of the momentary, there is nothing haphazard about its making. There is a noticeable inclination towards the centre, where the three middle slashes are slightly closer together, while there is a larger interval before the two outer ones, parenthetical, close the sequence. The result lends the image a distinctive rhythm of its own, forever held in a dangerous dance, unique among the Tagli series.

Produced in 1966, the year in which Fontana was awarded the International Grand Prize for Painting at the XXIII Venice Biennale, this piece epitomises the artist's wide-ranging ambitions as an 'explorer'. Spelling out Spatialism in five manifestos between 1947 and 1952, Fontana was to push through remarkable new territory. In an oeuvre that consistently homed in on an artwork's material properties, Fontana challenged the assumption in Western art of a flat support. The slashes in this piece, for example, each bear a slight curl of the lip, reaching back into the dark void behind, probing the boundary between a painting and its surrounding space. This inquiry into the grey area between painting and sculpture takes a particularly alluring form in the brilliant red of the Concetto spaziale here. It can also be traced all the way back to Fontana's abstract and figurative sculpture of the 1930s, which tested the gap between solid and void both by carving marks out of material and by creating freestanding marks in space. In close relation to the Concetto Spaziale here, the Tavolette graffite (Scratched tablets) from 1931 display fluid incisions in coloured cement that merge and dissolve as if free-floating. Even at this early stage Fontana evinced a disregard for traditional techniques and an interest in infinite space that would be significantly developed through painting. Later, in the Nature cycle of imperfectly shaped terracotta spheres (1959-69) there are deep gashes, suggestive of sexual orifices or geographical fault lines, that freed the artist from the constraints of two-dimensionality. So too in this Concetto Spaziale, Fontana performed surgery on the very concept of painting, committing sacrilege on Clement Greenberg's high altar of Modernism, the flat picture plane. As Fontana declared in his last recorded interview: 'I make a hole in a canvas in order to leave behind the old pictorial formulae, the painting and the traditional view of art and I escape, symbolically, but also materially, from the prison of the flat surface' (conversation with Tommaso Trini, July 19 1968, in Exhibition Catalogue, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1988, p.34).

Fontana offers an original interpretation of the artist's gesture: instead of letting it remain on the surface he makes it penetrate through the canvas. Yet for all its apparent insurrection against 'the limitations of a picture frame', the resounding power of this piece is reinforced by its mode of display, as a conventional easel painting on the wall. This edited canvas is itself an act of art historical editing: the slashes beguile with lasting questions about the relationship between the surface and the void, about the hidden properties of material, about our place in the world around. Richly suggestive, we are left with a multitude of sensual hints - at slits between theatre curtains, glimmers between lips, surgical incisions and sexual openings - but above all, through the superbly simple flick of a knife, Fontana initiated fissures in artistic convention that were to pierce the very meaning of art.