Lot 14
  • 14

Lucio Fontana

8,000,000 - 12,000,000 USD
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  • Lucio Fontana
  • Concetto Spaziale
  • signed
  • oil on canvas
  • 59 x 78 3/4 in. 150 x 200 cm.
  • Executed in 1961.


Michel Tapié, Paris
Renato Morbidelli, Turin
Serafina Petruno, Turin
Finarte, Milan, April 26, 1979, Lot 1
Private Collection, Switzerland (acquired from the above)
Sotheby's, London, June 22, 2005, Lot 10 (consigned by the above)
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Buenos Aires, Centro des Artes Visuales, Instituto Torcuato Di Tella, Intuiciones y realizaciones formales, August - September 1964, cat. no. 15, p. 20, illustrated
Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Lucio Fontana, February - March 1970, cat. no. 220, fig. 207, illustrated 


Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogue Raisonné des Peintures, Sculptures et Environements Spatieux, Vol. II, Brussels, 1974, cat. no. 61 O 32, p. 111, illustrated
Giulio Bolaffi, ed., Catalogo Nationale d'Arte Moderna, n. 15, Vol. I, Turin, 1979, p. 107, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo Generale, Vol. I, Milan, 1986, cat. no. 61 O 32, p. 367, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo Ragionato di Sculture, Dipinti, Ambientazioni, Vol. II, Milan, 2006, cat. no. 61 O 32, p. 551, illustrated


Please contact the Contemporary Art Department at (212) 606-7254 for the condition report prepared by Terrence Mahon.
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.

Catalogue Note

The Moon: Earth’s satellite, gravitational stabilizer and astral beacon for man’s place in an immeasurable universe. For centuries it was an unattainable celestial mystery, a divine entity whose distance from the earth was insurmountable; by the Twentieth Century however, the Moon was within our reach. Lucio Fontana, the master of Spatialism, pioneered a practice fundamentally driven by the promethean ascent of mankind’s technological evolution. Taking on the mantle and expanding the aims of Futurism, Fontana propelled artistic creation into the fourth dimension of space/time to herald the end of an old pictorial order. Indeed, by the time of the creation of this sumptuous Concetto Spaziale at at the beginning of the 1960s, superpower politics were utterly consumed by the race for space, and more pertinently, a race to the Moon. Thus, suspended in sleek blackness – the achromatic register of the void itself – a silver orb hovers and is orbited by an incised triple halo in this consummate Concetto Spaziale. Unquestionably lunar in appearance, yet far beyond the realm of representational likeness, this painting from 1961 posits a new form of artistic expression that philosophically responds to man’s technological liberation from the earth.  Indeed, the year of this painting’s creation was the year Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space; this was the year in which centuries of science fiction became reality. On a more terrestrial level however, the present work also stands as a precursor to the venerated series of Venezie – a suite of 22 paintings created in response to the majesty of the eponymous floating island city – and was created alongside a small number of others works in 1961 that although executed on varying scales can be regarded part of this landmark cycle. As scholar Pia Gottschaler has stated: “although these works do not have subtitles, they are clearly related to the Venezie in terms of imagery, paint handling, and the predilection for gold and silver paint.” (Pia Gottschaller, Lucio Fontana: The Artist’s Materials, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 99) Within this greater Venezie cycle however, Concetto Spaziale is unique in that it far outstrips any of these works in its sheer scale. Measuring an expansive 6½ feet wide, Concetto Spaziale is one of the largest and most ambitious works of Fontana’s career, and presages the lunar mien and encompassing human dimensions of the iconic 38-part Fine di Dio series created two years later. Utterly singular, this unique and precedential work masterfully pairs the lustrous surface detail of the Venezie with Fontana’s ever intensifying dialogue with the ominous tangibility of outer-space.

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.