Known for his limitless innovation and capacity to see beyond preconceived notions of painting, Lucio Fontana emerged as a symbol of the avant-garde and a pioneer of conceptual art. The theory behind Fontana’s art emerged fully formed in 1956 with the publication of the Manifesto Blanco or The White Manifesto which established the foundation for a new art. In it, Fontana called for the engagement of art with contemporary technology to create a new, hybrid format combining architecture, sculpture and painting which he termed Spatialism. The artist’s fascination with pushing the boundaries of the two-dimensional picture plane can be witnessed in Concetto Spaziale, Forma which incorporates elements of fabric collage along with ink and aniline dye. Additionally, this work showcases the artists interest in the interplay between texture and light which he had previously explored in his earlier punctured works (buchi) and would continue to explore in his later slashed paintings (tagli). In this way, the Concetto Spaziale, Forma forms a crucial link between these two phases in Fontana’s artistic output.
The present work from 1958 seamlessly forms part of the rest of the Concetto Spaziale, Forma series and features all its trademark characteristics: a central abstract form executed in warm, earthy tones. Unlike most in the series, however, the present work does not contain any of Fontana’s signature punctures. Nonetheless, this work does adopt the same three-dimensional quality provided by the punctures through its use of textured cloth collage which equally breaches the integrity of the canvas and opens the surface up to a multidimensionality denied by a two-dimensional picture plane. When considered in the context of the art production of Fontana’s contemporaries like Yves Klein’s Relief éponges bleu and Piero Manzoni’s Achrome at this time, Concetto Spaziale, Forma comes to represent the moment that artists began to privilege concept over composition. The present work marks the beginning of Fontana's great decade from 1958-1968, which saw him leave behind Art Informel in favour of the conceptual work that was to become his hallmark.
For Fontana, 1958 also stood out as a landmark year that signaled his rise to international acclaim following the success of his collection of aniline-infused works in the XXIX Venice Biennale. For the occasion, Fontana installed roughly thirty works from his early practice in the 1930s and a dozen new works including pastels and inks. The rich aesthetic of his earlier production stood in stark contrast to the newly articulated conceptual works in aniline ink. Art critic Lawrence Alloway recalled that the room was filled with some of “the most grave and beautiful works” (Lawrence Alloway cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1999, p. 30). Exhilarated and encouraged by the praise he received, Fontana continued his Spatialist investigations and soon after produced his first taglie or cut piece on the same aniline-dyed canvas as Concetto Spaziale, Forma. In doing so, the artist was aspiring towards and seeking to mirror the dramatic evolutions in space travel occurring as part of the international space race.
Fontana held a genuine interest in technological advances of the day and, following on from Enrico Prampolini’s notion of cosmic idealism, aimed for the future. Aware of the possibilities offered by science, Fontana had harboured a desire to see man’s first attempt at space travel. Fontana’s intuition of a limitless and infinite spatiality was formulated in the artist’s early opposition to the classicism of the Novecento Italiano movement at the beginning of the 1930s and carried on through his Concetto Spaziale, Forma series and beyond. Indeed, within the oeuvre of Fontana, space is no longer an earthly or purely tangible entity, but rather constitutes a cosmic illusion.
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