The present work belongs to Fontana’s Olii series and embodies the consistent investigation of his evolving conceptual project, known as Spazialismo. The pinnacle of this project was expressed most purely for Fontana in the creation of the hole, the penetration of the traditional flat plane of the medium, which opened up the material of the canvas and infused it with the space endlessly expanding behind, around, and through it. With the dawn of the Space Age, heralded by Yuri Gagarin’s flight in 1961, came an entirely new dimension; for Fontana, the astronaut’s launch into the infinity of the cosmos is echoed in the void created by his four dramatic perforations. These punctures ruptured not only the canvas itself, but the traditional boundary between painting and sculpture, bringing a new dimension to art. Concetto spaziale thus articulates the genesis of a new form of artistic expression and offers a reflection on the astral age.
While the paint was still wet, Fontana used a sharp tool to gouge the surface, then clawed at the canvas with his fingers, adding texture and weight as the pigment encrusted around the holes. He then scraped, scored, and modelled more paint onto the canvas to create projecting mounds of sculptural impasto within the punctures that complicate the work’s topography. In comparison to his earlier works, Fontana’s Olii paintings bring back this aspect of figuration: the visceral cuts and projections of the thickly applied paint invoke the sensual, carnal, and painful emotions of man’s existential condition. Indeed, in describing his transition between the Olii and the Tagli Fontana explained: “The cuts that I have made so far represent above all a philosophical space. But that which I am seeking, now, is no longer philosophical space but rather physical space… It is a human dimension that can generate physiological pain, a terror in the mind, and I, in my most recent canvases, am trying to give form to this sensation.” (Lucio Fontana cited in Grazia Livi, ‘Incontro con Lucio Fontana’, Vanita, No. 13, Autumn 1962, p. 55)
Further emphasizing the philosophical suggestions of the Concetto spaziale is the traced ovoid border surrounding the central holes. A classic symbol of birth and regeneration, the shape here recalls the mythic Orphic Egg, from which Phanes, the mystic primeval deity of procreation and the generation of new life, burst forth. This association is underscored by the gilded hue, as Phanes is commonly depicted as a golden idol, and glimpses of fleshy pink, hinting at the origins of man. Many critics have also drawn a parallel between Fontana’s bodily punctures and the stigmata wounds of Christ, in their symbolism of man’s spiritual release from matter. Against the background of Fontana’s Spatialist theories, Concetto spaziale can therefore be seen not only as a conceptual investigation into the boundaries of artistic media, but also as a metaphysical exploration of the confines of man’s existence. Executed in the same year as Fontana’s masterpiece Fine di Dio, the present work thus shares many of the characteristics that distinguish that celebrated series.
Oscillating between sculptural materiality and painterly essence, Concetto spaziale is suffused with the idea of rebirth in the age of cosmic exploration. In a combination of surface and depth, aesthetics and philosophy, carnal sensuality and scientific rigor, the present work forms a mosaic of Fontana’s rich inspirations that culminate in an emotive visual sensation. More than any other series, the Olii epitomize Fontana’s fascination with the cosmic universe and form a potent representation of evocative dichotomies.
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