Lucio FontanaNew York
Spatial Concept, 1960–61
Galleria del Triangolo, Rome,
Roberto Gigli, Viareggio,
Private collection, Rome,
Private collection, Milan,
Christie’s, London, 3 December 1992, lot 27,
Private collection, Hamburg.
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, catalogue raisonné des peintures, sculptures et environments spatiaux, Brussels, 1974, vol. 2, p. 76, no. 60–61 O 4, illustrated p. 77.
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana. Catalogo generale, Milan, 1986, vol. 1, no. 60–61 O 4, illustrated p. 265.
Paris: Karsten Greve Galerie, exh. cat. Galerie Karsten Greve, Paris, 1989, pp. 72–73, illustrated.
Lucio Fontana: peintures et sculptures, exh. cat. Galerie Karsten Greve, Paris, 1989–90, pp. 50–51, illustrated.
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, Milan, 2006, vol. 1, no. 60–61 O 4, illustrated p. 431.
Paris, Galerie Karsten Greve, Paris: Karsten Greve Galerie, 21 September–30 November 1989.
Paris, Galerie Karsten Greve, Lucio Fontana: peintures et sculptures, 30 November 1989–6 February 1990.
“The discovery of the cosmos is a new dimension, it is infinity, so I make a hole in this canvas, which was at the basis of all the arts and I have created an infinite dimension…the idea is precisely that, it is a new dimension corresponding to the cosmos…The hole is, precisely, creating this void behind there…Einstein’s discovery of the cosmos is the infinite dimension, without end. And so here we have: foreground, middle ground and background…to go farther what do I have to do?…I make holes, infinity passes through them, light passes through them, there is no need to paint.”—Lucio Fontana (quoted in Carla Lonzi, Autoritratto, Bari, 1969, pp. 169–71)
Lucio Fontana’s respect for the advancements of science and technology during the twentieth century led him to approach his art as a series of investigations into a wide variety of mediums and methods. As a sculptor, he experimented with stone, metals, ceramics, and neon; as a painter he attempted to transcend the confines of the two-dimensional surface. In a series of manifestos originating with the Manifiesto Blanco (White Manifesto, 1946), Fontana announced his goals for a 'Spatialist' art, one that could engage technology to achieve an expression of the fourth dimension. He sought to amalgamate the categories of architecture, sculpture, and painting to create a ground-breaking new aesthetic idiom.
From 1947 on, Fontana’s experiments were often entitled 'Concetti Spaziali' (Spatial Concepts), among which a progression of categories unfolds. The artist’s polychrome sculptures brought colour, considered to be under the dominion of painting, into the realm of the three-dimensional. In his buchi (holes) cycle, begun in 1949, he punctured the surface of his canvases, breaking the membrane of two-dimensionality in order to highlight the space behind the picture. With his pietre (stones) series, begun in 1952, he fused the sculptural with painting by encrusting the surfaces of his canvases with heavy impasto and coloured glass. From 1958, Fontana purified his paintings by creating matte, monochrome surfaces, thus focusing the viewer’s attention on the tagli, or slices, that rend the skin of the canvas, and whose violent jags enforce the idea that the painting is an object, not solely a surface.
An outstanding example of Fontana’s series of buchi, in this work Fontana took an unorthodox approach to his medium; after punching a series of holes through the canvas with a knife, he applied an even coat of metallic, copper-coloured paint to the perforated surface. The work is among the first made for an age that found itself thrust into the physical reality of the infinite abyss: space. Completed in the year that Yuri Gagarin became the first man to be sent into outer space, the punctures likewise invite viewers to travel to another realm. “When I hit the canvas,” Fontana explained, “I sensed that I had made an important gesture. It was, in fact, not an incidental hole, it was a conscious hole: by making a hole in the picture I found a new dimension in the void. By making holes in the picture I invented the fourth dimension” (quoted in Pia Gottschaller, Lucio Fontana: The Artist’s Materials, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 21). Fontana’s rich, metallic impasto is suggestive of the celestial skyscape while the enigmatic and eternal darkness beyond the holes evokes the mysterious chasm of space; at the same time, the the arrangement of the holes recalls a constellation of stars or even a galaxy of planets, while the ruptured topography of the pictorial plane mirrors mankind’s efforts to shatter terrestrial constraints, thus capturing the inspiring sense of discovery that heralded an age of cosmic exploration. This Concetto Spaziale is at once gestural and astral, organic and futuristic, primal and revolutionary; just as man entered space, so Fontana transcended the canvas, and brought outer space itself into art.
Furthermore, the holes cohere into an ovoid form, or perhaps even a halo. This egg-like shape would soon after the creation of this present work become the defining motif of Fontana’s seminal series 'La Fine di Dio', begun in 1963. In addition to connoting new life and resurrection in both biological and religious contexts, and thus to the genesis of Fontana’s new art, the oval was also central to the artist’s understanding of the universe. In 1916, when Fontana was 17 years old, Albert Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity, and in so doing permanently transformed modern science’s conception of space, time, and gravity. According to Einstein, matter causes space to curve; he also posited that gravity, in opposition to Newton’s law, is not a force, but is instead a curved field sculpted by the presence of mass. Paired with cosmologist (and Catholic priest) Georges Lemaître’s proposal of the expansion of the universe from an initial point in 1931, Einstein’s theorising of spacetime conceived a model of the universe that today takes the form of a three-dimensional ovoid. That Lemaître famously described his Big Bang theory in a scientific paper as “the Cosmic Egg exploding at the moment of creation” does much to underline the perspicacity of Fontana’s use of the egg shape in his canvases.
From a spiritual standpoint, in 1967 Fontana proclaimed that “God is invisible, God is incomprehensible; this is why no artist today can depict God seated on a throne with the world in his hands and a beard…The religions, too, must adapt themselves to the new state of science” (quoted in Barbara Hess, Lucio Fontana 1899–1968, Cologne, 2006, p. 68). Thus, the immanent orb that emerges from the surface of this Concetto Spaziale ultimately alludes to a profound existential reconfiguration of our understanding of the universe, the divine, and humankind’s meaning within it in the face of “the new state of science,” not bleakly atheistic in intent but offering a novel perspective for a modern age. On 19 June 1968, in the final interview before his death, Fontana affirmed the transcendent and humanist quality of his vision. “In 500 years’ time people will not talk of art…art will be like going to see a curiosity…Today man is on earth and these are all things that man has done while on earth, but do you think man will have time to produce art while travelling through the universe? He will travel through space and discover marvellous things, things so beautiful that things here—like art, will seem worthless…Man must free himself completely from the earth, only then will the direction that he will take in the future become clear. I believe in man’s intelligence—it is the only thing in which I believe, more so than in God, for me God is man’s intelligence—I am convinced that the man of the future will have a completely new world” (quoted in Lucio Fontana, exh. cat. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1988, p. 36).
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