THE FONTANA PHENOMENON: from Seaside to StudioLondon
Concetto Spaziale, 1964
ProvenanceWalker Art Center, Minneapolis;
Miles and Shirley Fiterman, Minneapolis and Palm Beach;
Phillips, London, 3 October 2019, lot 127
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center and Austin, University of Texas Art Museum, Lucio Fontana: the Spatial Concept of Art, 6 January–27 March 1966, no. 72
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Fifth Collectors Club, 4 June–10 July 1966, no. 34
The sleek, gleamingly iridescent white surface of an ovoid shape, defiantly inflated like an American football, is penetrated with a single perfect taglio, or slice, enclosed within an ovoid incision, in Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale, executed in 1964. Fontana trained as a sculptor before the Second World War, producing semi-figurative terracotta works that channelled his initial aspiration to spatialise visual art. Inspired by the extravagant sculptural conceits of the Baroque, the interpenetration of substance and space in these works created a dynamic sense of movement. Fontana returned to sculpture in the summer of 1959, but in these new works began to explore the buchi (holes) and tagli (cuts) which had come to define his pioneering works on canvas. Making ceramics his medium, Fontana was able to transcend the inherent flatness of a penetrated or slashed canvas, redefining solidity and nullity in a truly three-dimensional space, manifesting in plastic form his longing for an “art based on the unity of time and space.”
The present work channels many of Fontana’s Spatialist investigations, particularly pertaining to man’s place in the universe and the dichotomy between materiality and spatial nothingness, between presence and void. Fashioned in terracotta glazed in a pristine and glistening white, the work seems like a celestial body, perhaps another planet or a vessel come to earth from one, Fontana’s slice suggestive of a rupture into another dimension. Indeed, produced during an epoch defined by the so-called Space Race, the present work potently contends with the boundless dimensions of a universe that is simultaneously billions of years old, yet newly discovered by humankind. Describing his inspiration for his Natura series created between 1959 and 1960, in which Fontana made ragged gashed across spheres of terracotta, and subsequently cast them in bronze, the artist explained: “I was thinking of those worlds, of the moon with these...holes, this terrible silence that causes anguish, and the astronauts in a new world. And so...in the artist’s fantasy...these immense things have been there for billions of years...man arrives, in mortal silence, in this anguish, and leaves a vital sign of his arrival...they were these still forms with a sign of wanting to make inert matter live, weren’t they?" (Fontana quoted in Lucio Fontana: Paintings, Sculptures and Drawings, exh. cat. Ben Brown Fine Arts, London, 2005, p. 79). In the present work, which seems in form and spirit to be a culmination of the themes explored in the Natura series, by marking his sculpture with a single taglio, Fontana addresses this sense of “anguish’’ or anxiety at treading the unknown, uncertain depths of the cosmos, at once opening a chasm to infinity but emphatically insisting that it is man’s gesture which is its impetus, at the same time a “vital sign” of the artist’s presence.
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