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Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London

Lucio Fontana
1899 - 1968
CONCETTO SPAZIALE, ATTESE
signed, titled and inscribed anno 300 on the reverse
waterpaint on canvas
100.5 by 125.3 cm. 39 1/2 by 49 3/8 in.
Executed in 1959.
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Provenance

Galerie Schmela, Düsseldorf
Willy and Fänn Schniewind, Neviges (acquired from the above in 1960)
Private Collection, Germany (by descent from the above)
Sotheby's, London, 21 June 2007, Lot 46 (consigned by the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Exhibited

Rimini, Palazzo dell’Arengo, Il Premio Morgan’s Paint, July - August, 1959, no. 75, illustrated

Wuppertal, Kunst- und Museumsverein, Hommage à Fontana, September - November 1969, n.p., no. 14 (text)

Wuppertal, Kunst- und Museumsverein, Die 50er Jahre - Aspekte und Tendenzen, September - November 1977, n.p., no. 50, illustrated

Literature

Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogue Raisonné des Peintures, Sculptures et Environnements Spatiaux, Vol. II, Brussels 1974, p. 83, no. 59 T 44, illustrated

Enrico Crispolti, Fontana: Catalogo Generale, Vol. I, Milan 1986, p. 285, no. 59 T 44, illustrated

Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo Ragionato di Sculture, Dipinti, Ambientazioni, Vol. I, Milan 2006, p. 451, no. 59 T 44, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Presenting a delicate symphony of five captivating cuts across a verdant monochrome surface, Concetto Spaziale, Attese is an immersive example of Lucio Fontana’s highly renowned series, the Tagli (cuts). In the present work, seemingly casual slashes elegantly slice the canvas’ surface with concentrated precision. Differing in length and lying at an angle, each cut captures the calm rhythm and graceful impetus of Fontana’s hand as he nicked the pristine surface during the work’s creation. The rich fluidity of the painted picture plane compounds the act of slicing, allowing the calligraphic lacerations to dance across the canvas with balletic grace. These intense incisions of shimmering depth may appear to be a dramatic assault on the canvas; however, Fontana’s highly conceptual practice encompasses immense philosophical import – an overriding character of the artist’s greater production.

Fontana, who trained and worked most of his life as a sculptor, developed his concept of ‘Spatialism’ as a direct response to the nuclear age of the 1940s and 50s, and the subsequent exploration of space travel. Fontana believed that the world was on the verge of a seismic shift in how art could be understood; instead of viewing art as a verisimilar expression or depiction of the natural world,  Fontana looked to the new scientific fields of particle physics – a theoretical means of understanding the world as an elemental combination of time, matter, energy and space – for artistic inspiration.

Fontana was one of the first modern artists to fully appreciate this way of thinking. He slashed, punched, and burned his artworks to transcend the boundaries of the two dimensional. By cutting through the canvas’ surface, Fontana tore away at illusion and destroyed the canvas as a barer of illustrative depiction. The cuts transformed the canvas into a three dimensional object; the cavernous voids delicately reveal the infinity of space that lies within. This implication of an unknown dimension beyond the two-dimensional surface and the associated transcendental power of painting recalls the work of Fontana’s American contemporary Mark Rothko, whose artistic approach echoes that of the Italian artist in its cosmic spirituality. However, Fontana had always struggled against the positivity of art as a singular object arguing that “sculpture and painting are both things of the past, we need a new form. Art that’s movement. Art within space” (Lucio Fontana, cited in: Hedy. A. Giusti, 'But Nobody Mentions Milan Art', Rome Daily American, 9 July 1954, in Anthony White, 'Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch', Grey Room, No. 5, Autumn 2001, p. 56).

Even though Fontana’s medium was in fact paint on canvas, there is a strong element of performance in his work. Breaking into the canvas by slicing through the periphery with his knife, the finished work was no longer an organic vision of wholeness but instead an unmistakable document of process, a recital of actions whose emotions can be felt emanating from the scars on the canvas. The transformative act of slicing fixes the cut to a specific point and place in time, the action itself becoming the focal element of the work. 

The beauty of Concetto Spaziale, Attese, and indeed every other tagli in Fontana’s series, lies in its steady, immaculate and quasi-mechanical repetition. The automated labour of precise cuts disavows gesture and personal expression similar to the anonymity of a factory machine. Art critic and writer Antonella Negri has commented that “the cuts do not embody the manual effort and know-how of traditional craft skills; rather, they appear to be able to be executed in little time and by everybody” (Antonella Negri quoted in: Anthony White, Lucio Fontana, Between Utopia and Kitsch, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2001, p. 235). This mechanical emphasis runs parallel to the screen printing technique taken up by Andy Warhol in the 1960s. However, where Warhol took advantage of developing commercial technologies that were increasingly saturating mass culture, Fontana’s rejection of expressivity and favouring of immaculate pseudo-mechanic gesture conferred a philosophical gateway to objective universality.

With the Concetto Spaziali Fontana dissected the very concept of painting and undermined forever the flat picture plane. The incredibly striking composition of the present work, the five, crisp cuts running through this seductive green canvas, succeeds in keeping a series of conceptual tensions in parallel. Simultaneously looking forwards and backwards in time, the present work also impels us to look outwards, towards the abyss of space, and inwards, within ourselves. It is a prime example of the manner in which Lucio Fontana was able to instigate a paradigm shift in post-war art, galvanising the discourse to keep up with concurrent progressions in space travel and science theory. It is works of this nature and of this exceptional quality that have installed Fontana’s oeuvre at the forefront of post-war art history.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

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London