"My cuts are above all a philosophical statement, an act of faith in the infinite, an affirmation of spirituality. When I sit down to contemplate one of my cuts, I sense all at once an enlargement of the spirit, I feel like a man freed from the shackles of matter; a man at one with the immensity of the present and of the future."
Poetic and alluring, Concetto Spaziale, Attese is an archetypal exemplar of Lucio Fontana’s venerated tagli (‘cuts’) series rendered in its most sought-after colour – the current three highest auction records for the tagli series were executed in red. Across the pristine surface of the picture plane, four dramatically yet precisely rendered incisions imbue the canvas with the potent timeless energy of Fontana’s revolutionary gesture – each slash articulating the artist’s transformative explorations of time, space and the infinite, materialising his Spatialist philosophy and presenting a radical challenge to traditional notions of painting. By mutilating the canvas, Fontana’s seemingly destructive gesture was in fact profoundly generative; as Erika Billeter wrote: “With one bold stroke he pierces the canvas […] Implied in this gesture is both the termination of a five-hundred year evolution in Western painting and a new beginning, for destruction carries innovation in its wake” (Erika Billeter cited in exh. cat. New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006-07, p. 21). Fusing seductive chromatic power with commanding gesture, Concetto Spaziale, Attese unites science and art, painting and sculpture, the historical and the cutting edge and the conceptual and the concrete, signifying Fontana’s era-defining quest for “the Infinite, the inconceivable chaos, the end of figuration, nothingness” (the artist quoted in exh. cat. London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1999-2000, p. 198).
The artistic theory behind the creation of Fontana’s revolutionary tagli, and before them his buchi (‘holes’), was professed in Fontana's first manifesto, the Manifiesto Blanco, published in 1946. In 1947 he founded Spatialism, an influential art movement that proposed a ground-breaking synthesis of the phenomenological realm as a new form of visual expression. Spatialism outlined a new spirit for art, in tune with the post-war era, in which the traditional illusionism of oil painting was repudiated in favour of a unification of art and science. Not only did Fontana invite three dimensions into the traditionally flat canvas ground, but his rupture of the picture plane and revelation of a blackened void beyond implored a metaphysical dialogue with the fourth dimension and its enigmatic comingling of both time and space. As outlined in the Manifiesto, Fontana stipulated the need for matter, colour, and sound to be enacted within ‘real’ space and time: “Colour, the element of space; sound, the element of time; and movement that develops in time and space; these are the fundamental forms of the new art that contains the four dimensions of existence” (Lucio Fontana, ‘Manifiesto Blanco’, 1946 in Guido Balla, Lucio Fontana, New York, 1971, p. 189). This theorising would lay the foundation for the next twenty years of his practice, a period that boasts the most important and esteemed works of the artist’s career.
Fontana’s ambition to visually activate space was certainly connected to his background as a sculptor; however, such a deviation of the flat picture plane was equally rooted in mankind’s collective striving for scientific and technological advancement. For instance, Albert Einstein’s fusion of time and space into one continuum is echoed in Fontana’s synthesis of dimensions. Via the seemingly abyssal slashes that permeate his canvases, Fontana symbolically suggests a dimension beyond both the two-dimensional canvas support and a three-dimensional, sculptural, suggestion of space. This fixation with unknowable dimensions should be understood against a contemporaneous context of cosmic exploration; during the era Fontana began his tagli, news stories of the ‘space race’ captivated audiences all over the world. Indeed, Fontana’s Spatialist theories echo an age utterly dominated by news of space exploration and discovery. In 1957 the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, into orbit; in 1959, the Soviets landed probe Luna 2 on the moon; and in 1961 the very first outer-space flight was made by Yuri Gagarin. The space race permeated international political rhetoric, establishing the moon as the next frontier for human exploration. With punctured picture planes and lacerated canvases Fontana hypothesised overturning accepted norms of three-dimensional Cartesian space by invoking and venturing into an abyssal and void-like fourth dimension. Hence Fontana’s statement that: “the discovery of the Cosmos is that of a new dimension, it is the Infinite: thus I pierce the canvas, which is the basis of all arts and I have created an infinite dimension, an X which for me is the basis for all Contemporary Art” (Lucio Fontana quoted in exh. cat. New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006, p. 19).
While Fontana pioneered a dialogue that echoed advances in technology and progress of space exploration – an impetus attuned to the utopian tenets of Futurism – his practice also looked back towards the most traditional remit of Western art history, namely its grounding in the Catholic Church. The lyrical black cuts incised into the deep crimson surface of the present work elicit a tenably visceral reading that is steeped in the vernacular of Western art history. The ineluctable smoothness of the pulsating red pigment saturates the canvas like blood seeping from an open wound. Concetto Spaziale, Attese is thus a wounded canvas that in turn represents a Modernist echo of the wounds of Christ on the cross. Significantly, much like the art of the past in its deliverance of the message of salvation, in Fontana’s work, it is only by enacting violence upon an unblemished surface and sacrificing the possibility of representational illusion that an intimation of an unknown realm can be attained. Herein, it is his idiosyncratic gesture – the iconoclastic cut – that continues a legacy, which has shaped the development of Western art history: the Christian notion of transfiguration through violence and suffering. Marking a unique marriage of the distinctly traditional with the unequivocally progressive, Concetto Spaziale, Attese coalesces past, present and future within the slender abyss of each cut. An assured articulation of Fontana’s revolutionary desire to further the very boundaries of our phenomenological perception, it embodies the artist's pioneering spatial theories, whilst engendering a unique dialogue between the symbolic power of colour and form.