Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction


Lucio Fontana
1899 - 1968
signed, titled and inscribed Ciao Mariolina on the reverse
waterpaint on canvas
35.5 by 27.6 cm. 14 by 10 7/8 in.
Executed in 1964-65. 
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Galerie Rasmussen, Paris
Private Collection, France (acquired from the above in 1972)
Sotheby’s, Milan, 25 November 2003, Lot 243 (consigned by the above)
Galleria Seno, Milan (acquired from the above sale) 
Gladstone Gallery, New York 
Acquired from the above by Marc Jacobs in February 2006


Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo Ragionato di Sculture, Dipinti, Ambientazioni, Tomo II, Milan 2006, no. 64-65 T 70, p. 743, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Embracing the scientific breakthroughs of his day, and challenging the Euro-American status quo that had formed around Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism, Lucio Fontana’s 1964-65 Concetto spaziale, Attesa is an exceptional example of the Italian artist’s period-defining Tagli (cuts) series. Executed in white, the present work expresses the apogee of Fontana’s conceptual endeavor; instrumentalising the advancing field of cosmic exploration, Fontana sought to synthesise a newfound spatiality with the intimate phenomenology of the artistic gesture. What he produced was a paradigm shift in Modernist art practice – a radical incising of the flat picture plane that had been so championed by Jackson Pollock and the art critic Clement Greenberg. In the present work, Fontana’s artistic project is illustrated with magnificent asceticism – a single cut bisecting a pristine white canvas.

The Spatialist movement, which was initiated in 1947 by Fontana, clearly identified its affinity with science in their ‘Second Spatial Art Manifesto’: “we refuse to think that art and science are two separate things... the artists anticipate scientific gestures, and scientific gestures always stimulate artistic gestures” (Lucio Fontana, ‘Second Spatial Art Manifesto’ in Guido Ballo, Ed., L. Fontana: Idea per un ritratto, New York 1970, p. 206). As the materiality of the gleaming white ground opens onto the depths of the negative space beyond the canvas, Concetto spaziale, Attesa demonstrates with poetic modesty, the theoretical symmetry that Fontana’s investigation of planar space had to the immense advances in cosmic flight that were being pioneered in the 1950s and 1960s. The tension of the monochrome surfaces in the artist’s Concetti spaziali – pierced by Fontana’s virtuosic choreography with a sharp blade, then backed with black gauze – placed painting in dialogue with three-dimensional space. Situating it within the frame of the canvas, Fontana incorporates space as a tactile medium through which he exercises a process of mark-making, or space-creation.

This radical shift in process defined a seminal break from the New York school, and anointed Fontana as the doyen of European avant-gardism of the period. The artist’s Concetti spaziali emerged at the height of American Abstract Expressionist dominance; Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko and Franz Kline stood at the forefront of advances in contemporary painting in the 1950s. Greenbergian formalism – which affirmed the flat picture plane and the reduction of media to their specific qualities – posed a challenge to Fontana. The vandalistic trace of the artist’s slashes across the canvas, instead, demythologised the artist-gesture, representing painting as a process of mechanical reproduction. Fontana and Pollock have this in common: a gestural performativity that is made automatic through 'pouring' or 'cutting'. It was this new syntax of painterly expression that both great artists pioneered in the middle decades of the Twentieth Century, and what places them at the apex of the Modernist arc.

What materialises in Concetto spaziale, Attesa is an exemplary work that describes, with elegant candor, the lifelong project of Spatialist aesthetics that Fontana dedicated his artistic practice to. In her 1958 work, ‘The Human Condition’, the philosopher Hannah Arendt writes: “For some time now, a great many scientific endeavors have been directed... toward cutting the last tie through which even man belongs among the children of nature” (Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, Chicago 1958, p. 2). Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, Attesa breaks the cultural skin that keeps the animal void at bay; the bright white silence of the tensile surface of the canvas evinces a meditative repose, broken only by the piercing infinity of Fontana’s incision.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction