- Lucio Fontana
- Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio
- signed; signed and titled on the reverse
- oil on canvas
Sale: Christie's, London, Post War Evening Sale, 8 February 2001, Lot 11
Private Collection (acquired from the above)
Verona, Palazzo Forti, Lucio Fontana, Metafore Barocche,2002-03, no. 43, pp. 101 and 126, illustrated in colour
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Generale,Milan 1986, Vol. II, p. 462, no. 63 FD 4, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Ragionato,Milan 2006, Vol. II, p. 650, no. 63 FD 4, illustrated
Mediating an intangible boundary between painting and sculpture, Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio represents the brilliant apotheosis of Abstract Spatialism, and is thus perfect summation of the artistic ideology that defined the career of Lucio Fontana. Fontana only very rarely titled his works beyond the ubiquitous Concetto Spaziale, and the series La Fine di Dio – 'The End of God' – is widely considered to represent the peak of his achievements. The works of this illustrious cycle have been the inspiration for very considerable art historical scholarship and variously represented in over one hundred exhibitions since their conception. Equivalent pieces from the series are today housed in venerated collections from the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, while an example imbued in a very comparable green hue was held in the Kunstmuseum Dusseldorf for a number of years. However, even amid this revered company, the present work is exceptional. The iconic oval canvas, suggesting themes of birth and regeneration, has been sumptuously lathered in a specially-developed and brilliantly luminous green oil paint and punctured with violent tears that strike through to the conceptual infinity of the void beyond the picture plane. Contemporaneous with humankind's first explorations into Space, Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio captures within its extraordinary topography a revolutionary and unique perspective on human experience. Indeed, this masterwork should justly be sited in the very top tiers of both the Italian maestro's exceptional output and of the canon of twentieth-century European Abstract Art.
At almost two metres high, the oval canvas broadcasts the remarkable nature of La Fine di Dio from the outset. An oval with only one axis of symmetry, the egg shape presents a fundamentally different visual experience to that restricted by the boundaries of a rectangle. The spectator's eye recognises the outline of the work itself as possessing a clear iconographical identity, rather than searching for iconography within a perpendicular prescription. For this reasonLa Fine di Dio is closer to sculpture than painting: its very shape is critical in determining spectator experience. In addition, light cast on the painting is refracted by the canvas-encasing metal rim, which disseminates a diaphanous halo and frames the curved shape in an ethereal illumination. Within the unbroken, continuous silhouette of the curved edge the canvas is flooded with an intense electric green: a colour that is quite unlike any familiar hue and that is also absolutely central to the artist's employment of a dazzling palette for the iconic series. The highly innovative composition of the oil paint ensures this colour is startlingly opaque and vivid, emanating real chromatic brilliance while the sculptural drama of the surface provides leaping arcs and dashing flecks of highlight and shadow.
The landscape of paint that confronts the viewer appears molten like a pool of liquid; burnished like an ingot wrestled from the earth's crust; and unearthly like a smoothly incinerated meteorite. To achieve the faceted texture Fontana has smothered the canvas in thick paint using palette knives and his hands. In order to facilitate this extravagant working method it had been necessary for Fontana to develop new materials as the viscosity of traditional oil paint caused thick areas to sag and change shape during the lengthy drying period. As proved by Barbara Ferriani and others, between 1960 and 1961 Fontana started to add a stearic-acrylic resin to oil paint as a hardener to achieve the unique impasto, which he could manipulate further during its faster drying time (Barbara Ferriani in: Exhibition Catalogue, Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection; New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Lucio Fontana: Venice/ New York, 2006, p. 222).
A lyrical dispersal of squarci ('gashes'), buchi ('holes'), and graffiti punctures act as windows of epiphany into Fontana's conception of an infinite state that transcends what appears solid on the surface. The egg, as the ultimate referent for creation and life, is pierced by visceral ruptures that strike through and deconstruct preconceptions of existence. By this time he worked his canvases horizontally and vertically, attacking both the front and back, and the sheer physicality of La Fine di Dio constantly reminds the viewer that Fontana had spent the majority of his artistic career as a sculptor. Educated by his father to conceptualise in three-dimensions, to see the form held within a block of marble and the potential resident in a lump of clay, Fontana was not interested in the canvas as merely a window to the artist's eye. Indeed, in two cycles predating this - the Nature of 1959 and 1960, and the Metalli produced from 1962 - Fontana manipulated three dimensions with terracotta, aluminium and copper, thus developing the phenomenal sculptural dialect that is brought into such fine resolution in La Fine di Dio.
His actions are retold by residual quotations of his tools and fingers emerging as three-dimensional shadows fixed in oil paint amidst the ruptures, ridges and recesses. The flicked peaks and gouged troughs around the gashes have been channelled by knives and finger tips, pressure pushing up burred edges like furrows ploughed in wet soil. The raised rims around the gashed punctures describe how the artist incised the shape of the holes while the paint was still drying. In a prolonged and dramatic gesture, Fontana's knife has been punched through and twisted in the canvas over and again, ingraining forever the conviction of his visceral attack. Predating this work by almost twenty-five years, Raffaele Carrieri made the prescient statement that "Fontana's story is the story of Fontana's ceaseless battle with his hands" (Raffaele Carrieri, 'Le maioliche geologiche di Lucio Fontana', Illustrazione Italiana, Milan 8th January 1939): Fontana fuelled his desire to go beyond material by constantly regenerating material.
When contrasted with the comparative restraint of the perforations in Fontana's other works on canvas, such as the mechanically uniformBuchi ('Holes') and Tagli ('Cuts'), the ruptures here possess a vastly more complex and varied identity. Sarah Whitfield has noted that with a cut "The most intense moment of luminosity occurs at the point where the slightly curving planes at each side of the cut meet the slit of dark space", whereas "the multiplicity of the hole affects the whole canvas" (Sarah Whitfield in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Hayward Gallery,Lucio Fontana, 1999-2000, p. 42). With the holes of La Fine di Dio frayed canvas and paint ridges overlap and interlock amidst a facetted pattern of shadows. Betraying a dramatic history of creative destruction, these holes punctuate a three-dimensional landscape, their size and shape changing as the spectator moves around the work.
Underpinning the whole creation of La Fine di Dio is the Spatialist concept, as he had explained in a letter two years earlier: "I think that Matter is important to the evolution of art, but the artist must control it, it is what the artist uses for his new creation, but the important thing, the most important thing is the Idea" (the artist in a letter to Jef Verheyen, 1961, cited in Paolo Campiglio, Ed., Lucio Fontana. Lettere 1919-1968, Milan 1999, pp. 180-181). By 1963 the theoretical framework of his Spatialism was well-developed: "I am seeking to represent the void. Humanity, accepting the idea of Infinity, has already accepted the Idea of Nothingness. And today Nothingness is a mathematical formula" (the artist interviewed by Neiro Minuzzo, 1963, cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1999-2000, p. 148). Puncturing and rupturing, the moulded gashes obliterate the precedent of the two-dimensional picture plane and provide portals to an infinite space beyond the surface. By admitting a state of infinity, or what Enrico Crispolti described as "an extreme dematerialization of space itself" (Enrico Crispolti in: Exhibition Catalogue, Milan, Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Fontana, 1999, p. 14), these apertures introduce a condition that is beyond intellectual comprehension and therefore beyond the human conception of a deity. La Fine di Dio, 'The End of God', confronts indefinable sculpture in unknowable space, and is the definitive embodiment of Crispolti's summary: "Fontana, in fact, replaced the issue of the perception of reality with that of the conception of reality...considered as substantially dynamic, fluid, relative and infinite" (Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, Tomo I, Milan 2006, pp. 11-13).