Significantly, Concetto Spaziale established a central motif for the subsequent Venezie: the silver moon, a motif that is complemented throughout the series by a golden sun. This painting is therefore a natural precursor to the illustrious Concetto Spaziale, Venice Moon (1961) in the collection of the Fondazione Fontana, Milan, in which a silver band encircles a glass stone-encrusted black circle. With its harmonious command of silver impasto this painting recalls curator Luca Massimo Barbero’s observation that the Venezie “fall into two groups: on the one hand, luminous, marine images of the gold light of the sun or of silvery reflections of the light of the moon; on the other, images encrusted with Stones, chips of glass to signal the fantastical man-made city, its architecture by night and by day, its buildings reflecting and being reflected in the mobile light.” (Luca Massimo Barbero in Exh. Cat., Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection (and travelling), Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006, pp. 34-5) In this regard, Concetto Spaziale eloquently expresses the artist’s predilection for materials that could capture and reflect light. Writing on the artist’s innovative command of such materials, the esteemed critic Michel Tapié – who incidentally was the very first owner of the present work – commented: “the beauty of the pictorial material gives perhaps to the works a more definite and more absolute air; and in content gains in profundity, in mysterious ambiguity and in intense, metaphysical spatiality, whilst the masterful use of plastic gold and silver raises the artist’s euphoric good humour to new heights.” (Ibid.) Significantly, it was Tapié who curated the legendary 1961 exhibition Arte e Contemplazione at the Centro Internazionale delle Arti e del Costume of the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, which featured rooms devoted to Lucio Fontana as well as Mark Rothko, Sam Francis, and Jean Dubuffet, among others, and it was for this occasion that Fontana created the Venezie in a burst of concentrated production. Appearing as it does directly before the Venezie in Enrico Crispolti’s Catalogue Raisonné, Concetto Spaziale captures the very earliest moments of Fontana’s “Idea of Venice” (Ibid., p. 32).
This extraordinary painting captures the serenity of the moon reflected in Venice’s Grand Canal, whilst simultaneously conjuring a dialogue with the conceptual and physical reality of space. Akin to looking up at the night sky Concetto Spaziale is tranquil, and yet, attuned to the quiet chaos of space itself, it is instilled with an intimation of violence. The surface bears the trace of Fontana’s fingers, as though they have scratched at the painting’s sumptuous ground to rupture its epidermis. At its center, a silver aureole is the locus of numerous slender incisions – or tagli – which offer the viewer a glimpse beyond the normative picture plane and into an unknowable blackness. Here, as in his larger corpus of Olli initiated during the same year, Fontana combined the foundational import of his buchi with the contemplative incising of the tagli upon a thick and lustrous painterly ground. The very visceral facture of this work thus chimes with a concurrent shift in Fontana’s practice; indeed, the heightening prevalence of the very real physical conditions of space conjured a new host of troublesome and painful realities in the artist’s imagination. As time and experience has proven, the biological impact of zero gravity provokes a number of health issues for astronauts including extreme radiation exposure, motion sickness, and loss of muscle and bone mass, whilst extreme confinement and solitude takes its own psychological toll. One year on from Yuri Gagarin’s maiden voyage Fontana explained the increasing violence of his own work in these very terms: “They represent the pain of man in space. The pain of the astronaut, squashed, compressed, with instruments sticking out of his skin, is different from ours… He who flies in space is a new type of man, with new sensations, not least painful ones.” (the artist cited in Carla Lonzi, Autorittrato, Bari, 1969, p. 197) For Fontana, it was this rumination on the human endurance of space’s inhospitable vacuum that changed the tone of his practice. Echoing the Olii in their powerfully somatic impact, Concetto Spaziale hones in on the fear and trepidation of cosmic man.
As becomes explicit from 1961 onwards, Fontana’s work posits an artistic language expressive of the new concerns and experiences of astral man. Emblematic in this regard, Concetto Spaziale acknowledges the majesty of human history – in its connection to the historic city of Venice – and transposes these values into a new dimension for art, one that invokes the serene and utopian ideal of space and unites it with the void’s threatening portent. Indeed, in its sense of spatial depth, and of representing the vastness of the cosmos, Concetto Spaziale perfectly encapsulates Lucio Fontana’s era-defining theory of Spazialismo and its investigation into new dimensions of human experience.
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