Lucio Fontana cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Guggenheim Museum, Luca Massimo Barbero, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, Exh. Cat., 2006, p. 37
Executed in 1962, Lucio Fontana’s gleaming brass painting Concetto spaziale, New York 8 is a resplendent example of the artist’s celebrated investigations into pictorial, physical and cosmic space. The work comes from Fontana’s body of Metalli – or metal sheets – which were created between 1961 and 1968. Begun when the artist was 62 years of age, the works in this series explore the possibilities of gestural expression on incandescent sheets of metal, including copper, zinc, aluminium, and, as in the present work, brass. Scratching, gouging, and tearing violent incisions into these sheets of metal, Fontana opens out the flat pictorial plane into the depths of the third dimension, revealing an infinite vortex of space. Desirable and extremely rare, the works in this series were dedicated to the twinkling, light filled ‘City that Never Sleeps’ that inspired their creation: New York. Fontana’s vast impact on the course of contemporary art is being commemorated this year in the first major survey of the artist’s work in more than forty years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
In 1961, Fontana was invited by Paolo Marinotti, the owner of the exhibition centre at Palazzo Grassi, Venice, to create a cycle of paintings known as the Venezie for the acclaimed Arte e Contemplazione exhibition. Exhibiting alongside the likes of Jean Dubuffet, Mark Rothko and Sam Francis, Fontana produced a number of lustrous oil paintings in a thick lavishing of metallic paint, inspired by the Baroque characteristics of the city of Venice. Manipulating the surfaces of these works, Fontana tore into the canvas to create his iconic tagli (cuts) and buchi (holes). The works dazzled the public and, later that year, they were exhibited in New York. Fontana travelled to the city for the very first time in November 1961 and was enthralled by its powerful magnetism, unlike anything he had seen before: “New York is more beautiful than Venice!!” he exclaimed, greatly affected by the immense verticality of the city, and the vast metal structures of the high-rise buildings that filled Manhattan’s skyline. “The skyscrapers of glass look like great cascades of water that fall from the sky!! At night it is a huge necklace of rubies, sapphires, and emeralds” he wrote in a letter to his friend, the architect and collector Mario Bardini (Lucio Fontana cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Guggenheim Museum, Luca Massimo Barbero, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006, p. 37).
Concetto spaziale, New York 8 invokes the immense and dynamic metropolis of New York City. Radiant with energy, charisma and charm, bustling with people, and filled with endless, towering skyscrapers, the city captured Fontana’s imagination. In a natural progression from the sparkling surfaces of his Venezie paintings, Fontana turned to the medium of metal in order to evoke the omnipotent and awe-inspiring wonder of his newly discovered New York. In the present work, five bold lacerations cut forcefully through the flesh of the brass, in an echo of the city’s skyline, as countless scratches and indentations score its surface. They reflect and diffract the light, creating a play of brightness and shadow that flits across the pictorial plane. “New York”, wrote the artist, “is a city made of glass colossi on which the Sun beats down causing torrents of light” (Ibid., p. 43). Indeed, the present work seems imbued with the warmth of the city’s rich and golden sunlight. Just as Venice, with its sensual allure and antique charm, had powerfully inspired Fontana’s aesthetic, so did New York captivate and enchant him with its grand industrial force. Thus does Concetto spaziale, New York 8 offer a compelling metaphor for this utopia of man-made modernity.
The Venezie and New York cycles represent some of the most sublime and opulent works of Fontana’s career. Indeed, the present work was exhibited in a number of eminent exhibitions including Fontana’s major 1977 retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, as well as at the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1987-88), and the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome (1988). More recently, the two series became the focus of a celebrated exhibition, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, which travelled from the Guggenheim in Venice to New York in 2006-7. Held in important museum collections worldwide, Fontana’s Metalli works have achieved an almost mythic status within the artist’s career. With its iridescent and mesmerising beauty, Concetto spaziale, New York 8 encapsulates the radical aesthetic of this sought after series.
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