Enrico Crispolti, Fontana: Catalogo Generale, Vol. II, Milan 1986, p. 519, no. 64 T 23, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo Ragionato di Sculture, Dipinti, Ambientazioni, Vol. II, Milan 2006, p. 710, no. 64 T 23, illustrated
The title of the present work translates directly to ‘Spatial Concept, Expectation’, and refers to an immediate sense of infinity, as well as a direct challenge to the physical boundaries of space. Depth and surface are juxtaposed through Fontana’s singular use of a sharp blade, while the artist’s own gesture, and thus performance, becomes the central focus of the series. In her essay on the artist’s retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1977, art historian Erika Billeter wrote, “With one bold stroke he pierces the canvas and tears it to shreds. Through this action he declares before the entire world that the canvas is no longer a pictorial vehicle and asserts that easel painting, a constant in art heretofore, is called into question. Implied in this gesture is both the termination of a five-hundred year evolution in Western painting and a new beginning, for destruction carries innovation in its wake” (Erika Billeter cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006-07, p. 21).
Though seemingly impulsive, the severe slashes on the surface of Fontana’s canvas are the result of a rational and surgical process of image-making. For the tagli series, Fontana’s gestural performance began by soaking his canvases with emulsion paint, which he then left to dry for several hours. After meticulously piercing the surface with a Stanley Knife, he would open the cuts gently with the edge of his blade. As a final step, Fontana inserted black gauze as interfacing behind each incision to create the illusion of infinite depth. As such, the artist’s hand was paramount to this process, the severe slashes revealing the highly physical nature of his work. Alluding to the great emphasis on the physicality of the artist’s visual language, Fontana himself wrote in 1948, “Art dies but is saved by gesture” (Lucio Fontana cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Lucio Fontana 1899-1968: A Retrospective, 1977, p. 19).
While the compositions of the tagli are both conceptual and abstract in nature, each slash is subject to narrative interpretation, and their provocative disruption upon the surface of the flat canvas evokes earthly connotations, with deeply ingrained, personal origins. The present composition’s incisions might suggest the cracks and fissures left in the earth after violent earthquakes, a devastating series of which occurred during the artist’s early childhood in Italy. The earth’s striking power to suddenly shift is rendered on Fontana’s canvas in a highly conceptual manner, and his preoccupation with the idea of motion becomes particularly relevant given this interpretation. In the late 1940s and 1950s, the artist’s synthesis of movement, space and time influenced the ‘Spazialismo’ movement in Italy, which further referenced the aesthetic vocabulary of the Futurists at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. The earlier works of Giacomo Balla and Umberto Boccioni offered similar meditations on motion, dynamism, energy and space, and Fontana’s tagli series build upon such considerations through a transformative system of pseudo-mechanic gesture.
While Fontana’s works juxtapose surface and depth, his compositions also unite tradition with contemporaneity. The artist asserted: “Because I was seriously looking for a radically new way of proceeding, I wanted to give my studies a classical foundation” (Lucio Fontana cited in: ibid., p. 20). Fontana’s training in classical sculpture is central to the performative process of the tagli canvases, for their gestural nature recalls the rigorous process of direct carving, as well as the marks and grooves made throughout the process of sculpting marble. During the same period in Italy, Cy Twombly also sought to bridge the gap between painting and sculpture by means of a highly gestural formal vocabulary. Twombly even considered white paint his “marble”, and his sharp, forceful scratches on canvas undoubtedly evoke Fontana’s ten cadent incisions upon the surface of the present composition (Cy Twombly cited in: Katharina Schmidt, ‘Looking at Cy Twombly’s Sculpture’, in: Christian Klemm and Katharina Schmidt, Eds., Cy Twombly: Die Skulptur /The Sculpture, Ostfildern 2000, p. 47). Executed during the most formative decade of the artist’s career, Concetto Spaziale, Attese exhibits Fontana’s negotiation with, and challenge to, traditional notions of painting, as well as the artist’s invention, freedom and willingness to subvert aesthetic boundaries. Here, Fontana’s viewer is made to look beyond the physical fact of painting, and to the philosophical notions of space without confinement and depth without boundaries.
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