THE FONTANA PHENOMENON: from Seaside to StudioLondon
Bullfight, ca. 1950
ProvenancePrivate collection; Fabienne Levy, Lausanne; private collection; Galerie Haas, Zurich
ExhibitionsNew York, Colnaghi, Fontana, presented by Ben Brown Fine Art & Colnaghi, 22 January–28 February 2019
Though now renowned for his highly experimental and innovative work as Spatial artist, Lucio Fontana began his career as a sculptor. As a young man, he worked for his father's firm creating funerary busts from materials like plaster and marble, and in 1928 he began studying sculpture at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, working in the traditional academic manner. Fontana soon abandoned the classical idiom prescribed by the academy and began to explore sculpture-making more freely; in 1935, Fontana started working in the workshop of the Futurist ceramicist Tullio Mazzotti in the small town of Albisola.
In this beautiful piece entitled Corrida, a plate embellished with traditional Baroque decoration is the setting for a highly abstracted bullfighting scene, the black bull and matador wielding a bright yellow cloth whirling about the central surface. Corrida is one of the few works by Fontana which takes bullfighting as its subject. The sport was never particularly popular in his native Argentina and was in fact banned in the year of his birth, 1899. Bulls, though not bullfighting, feature in his 1948 sculpture for the Cinema Arlecchino in Milan, though the motif has defied easy interpretation—scholars have various suggested that the bulls allude to bullfighting, but also Zeus, the Rape of Europa, and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. This last notion is perhaps the most interesting to explore. It is well known that Picasso was fascinated by bulls, and even more specifically by the heroism, violence, and expression of masculine power embodied in the quintessentially Spanish sport of bullfighting, revisiting the theme again and again in a range of media, even decorating ceramic plates with bullfighting scene. Fontana and Picasso met at the latter’s studio in Vallauris in 1950, and later critiqued his ceramic production as lacking originality. It is tempting to hypothesise that Fontana’s Corrida was made in as a challenge to Picasso’s ceramic plates with bullfighting motifs. Rather than simply decorating the surface of a simple plate with a two-dimensional depiction of a bullfighting scene as Picasso had done, Fontana began with an ornate Baroque plate and modelled fully three-dimensional figures of matador and bull, alive with dynamic motion, which swirl exuberantly up out of the plate’s centre.
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