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.
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