A luminous yellow canvas pierced with four rhythmic slashes, Concetto Spaziale, Attese is an unattested paradigm of Lucio Fontana’s spatio-temporal investigations that have consecrated his iconic legacy in the history of modern art. Executed in 1962-1963, the years immediately after Yuri Gagarin became the first person to travel into space and only eight years before Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, this exquisite canvas presents an entirely novel form of artistic expression that philosophically responds to mankind’s foray into space and liberation from the earth. The color yellow was of utmost importance to Fontana’s conceptual development as it represented his fervent fascination with light. Within the present work’s nearly ineffable hue of yellow—a tone that is electric yet graceful—four dramatic cuts seem to dance across the silken surface of the canvas. Each of almost equal length, the four dark recesses transport the viewer into a dynamic sculptural space where energy streams through the openings. Slim and elegant in their precise positioning at regular intervals across the picture plane, the slashes, or ‘tagli’ catalyze the metamorphosis of the two dimensional canvas into a luminous, captivating art-object that perfectly epitomizes Fontana’s intent “to give the spectator an impression of spatial calm, of cosmic rigor, of serenity in infinity” (Lucio Fontana quoted in Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, tomo I, Milan 2006, p. 105).
In the present work, the invigorating chromatic power of the rich yellow background perfectly echoes German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s infamous Theory of Colors from 1810 which states that “(Yellow) is the color nearest the light…In its highest purity it always carries with it the nature of brightness, and has a serene, gay, soft exciting character” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Theory of Colors, London 1810, pp. 306-7). Fontana was particularly mesmerized by the color yellow for the way in which it could simultaneously embody a material object and the immaterial quality of light. Ever cognizant of metaphysical scientific theory, Fontana was deeply in touch with advancements in space exploration and mankind’s consequential evolving perception of the earth, sun and moon. More than anything, Fontana delighted in the dazzling life-giving energy of the sun, which represented for him a conceptual underpinning of his investigations into properties of light and matter. “L'oro è bello come il sole” (gold is as beautiful as the sun), reads the inscription Fontana marked on the reverse of one of his yellow Concetto spaziale canvases, ever affirming his particular admiration for the luminous hue of yellow. As such, the present work triumphs as an ode to the sublime materialization of light in space.
Fontana’s iconic rupture of the picture plane in his tagli paintings constitutes a seminal redefinition of the conception of space within art. Having advanced his intellectual theory of Spatialism in five formative manifestos, Fontana then forged a path toward unthinkable advancements in artistic ideology that sought to engage technology and find expression for a fourth dimension: space time. Fontana first embarked upon his tagli in the autumn of 1958 and developed the motif by bathing his canvases in an extensive palette of hues that ranged from vivid oranges and hot pinks, through more muted brown and grey tones, to shimmering baroque golds, silvers and vivid yellows, as evidenced in the present work. Harnessing this array of pigments, Fontana further diversified his practice by experimenting with different quantities of slashes. The transgressive incisions in Concetto Spaziale, Attese are imbued with the artist’s unbridled enthusiasm for space as endless and infinite, yet brimming with the promise of uncharted and boundless adventure—the ultimate realization of his groundbreaking concept of Spatialism. As outlined by the artist: "The discovery of the Cosmos is that of a new dimension, it is the Infinite: thus I pierce this 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., Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection (and traveling), Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006, p. 19).
Fontana’s fascination with infinite space led him to become preoccupied by the more general ideas of modern science and “the speed of life” (Lucio Fontana quoted in Anthony White, Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch, Cambridge 2011, p. 261). One of the most explicit ways that Fontana explored these notions in his oeuvre was through his use of bold, bright industrialised colors, the slick forms of contemporary design and the daring fashion of the 1960s. As critic Anthony White expands, “With their chic confectionary colors and their sometimes dazzling sprinklings of glitter, these [brightly colored] works are all surface; as in Andy Warhol’s later series of Diamond Dust paintings from the 1980s, the sensual image of the body is paired with the ephemeral plastic palette of Hollywood glamour and 1960s fashion” (Anthony White, ibid., p. 262). Confronting scientific and philosophical theories and employing them with a distinctly contemporary approach to color and materiality, Concetto Spaziale Attese is a magnificent example of Lucio Fontana’s iconic tagli and resonates with the confidence of an artist at the very height of his artistic powers.
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