Fontana’s iconic rupture of the picture plane in his tagli paintings constitutes a seminal redefinition of the conception of space within art. In their ritualistic gestural bravura, Fontana’s cuts drew upon the increasing focus on action and performance art building in Italy during 1957-58; particularly, Yves Klein’s first exhibition of saturated monochrome paintings in Milan in 1957 and a retrospective of Jackson Pollock’s violently splattered canvases in Rome in 1958. Although the artist embarked upon the first paintings of the series at the end of 1958, however, the creative inception of his revolutionary tagli (cuts) and their predecessors, the buchi (holes), was articulated as early as 1946 in Fontana's artistic treatise Manifesto Blanco. There, Fontana proposed the concept of Spatialism, which sought to articulate the fourth dimension by instigating a radical dialogue between technology and the very ‘dimensionality’ of painting. Fontana’s innovative conceptual creed expounded upon the theories of earlier Italian futurists, such as Umberto Boccioni’s declaration, “Let us open up the figure like a window and close within it the environment in which it lives.” Echoing this sentiment in Manifesto Blanco, Fontana appreciatively remarks, “Futurism adopts movement as the only beginning and the only end.” (Lucio Fontana, "Manifesto Blanco," cited in Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Ragionato, Vol. II, Milan, 2006, p. 19) As Fontana enacted these radical statements in the creation of the present Concetto Spaziale, Attese, his blade ineluctably rupturing the still face of the picture plane in pursuit of a new frontier of painterly process, he achieved immediate notoriety for what would become the most radical and categorically groundbreaking artistic gesture of recent art history.
Executed in 1965, Concetto Spaziale, Attese is an exceptional and stirring invocation of a particular and momentous juncture within Fontana’s celebrated career. The specificity of the present work is due to the remarkable inscription which adorns the reverse of the canvas, broadcasting Fontana’s exuberant pronouncement I’m going to Turin to see Michel Tapié and emphatically expressing the fervent energy Fontana indubitably experienced as his paintings exploded upon the international stage. While the radical innovation of Fontana’s now-canonical oeuvre ensured his celebrated art historical legacy, the artist’s unparalleled success and international acclaim of the late 1950s and 1960s is inextricably linked to his friendship and partnership with Michel Tapié. Upon being introduced to Fontana in 1956, Tapié, profoundly impressed by the pioneering nature of the artist’s Spatialist practice, dedicated himself to expanding Fontana’s reputation and following worldwide. Following the first exhibition of slashed canvases at Galeria del Naviglio in Milan in 1958, it was Tapié who secured the artist his first one-man show abroad, an exhibition of the tagli at Galerie Stadler for which Tapié personally wrote the catalogue entry. In its radical rupture of the revered picture plane, the present work powerfully invokes Tapié’s pronouncement of Fontana as “one of the most audacious pioneers and one of the most stimulating leaders of our contemporary art world; a man who has created with a new perception certain axioms and new mechanisms for his work.” (Michel Tapié, Devenir de Fontana, Turin, 1961, p. 18) Indeed, in the year following the creation of the present work, Fontana was awarded the grand prize at the Venice Biennale XXXIII for his Ambienti Spaziale, an honor which crystallized and permanently insured the momentous import of Fontana’s slashed canvases within art history. Indeed, reflecting upon the series in the year after the present work was completed, Fontana concluded: “With the tagli, I have invented a formula that I think I cannot perfect…. I succeeded in giving those looking at my work a sense of spatial calm, of cosmic rigor, of serenity with regard to the Infinite. Further than this I could not go.” (the artist cited in Pia Gottschaller, Lucio Fontana: The Artist’s Materials, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 58)
While Fontana’s victorious overturn of dominant aesthetic dogma of Renaissance spatial reasoning constitutes a radical schism with canonical art history, the indisputable tension between unity and rupture, beauty and brutality, transcendent serenity and unspeakable violence in Concetto Spaziale, Attese simultaneously invokes the most traditional remit of Western art: the devotional framework of the Catholic Church. In their wound-like appearance, the four lacerations of the present work are unmistakably cuts wrought by a human hand; this perception is enhanced by the ineluctable smoothness of the pulsating red pigment that saturates the canvas, seeping from the dark caesuras in a contemporary echo of the wounds of Christ on the cross. Significantly, mirroring the Christian message of salvation through sacrifice, it is only by enacting violence upon an unblemished surface that Fontana achieves access to a new and unknown dimension. Reflecting upon the significance of his apertures, Fontana remarks, “the discovery of the Cosmos is that of a new dimension, it is the Infinite: thus I pierce the canvas, which is the basis of all arts and I have created an infinite dimension, an x which for me is the basis for all Contemporary Art.” (the artist quoted in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006, p. 19)
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