Lucio Fontana (1899 - 1968), Concetto Spaziale, Attese. photo courtesy Sotheby's

waterpaint on canvas, signed, titled and inscribed Come é lungo questo quadro, un metro e dieci centimetri on the reverse. Executed in 1965; 50 by 121cm. - Estimate 1,600,000—2,200,000 GBP. Lot Sold 1,777,250 GBP

PROVENANCE: Gianni Donati, Milan
Private Collection, La Spezia
Acquired from the above by the present owner

LITERATURE AND REFERENCES: Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogue Raisonné, Brussels 1974, Vol. II, p. 158-9, no. 65 T 17, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Generale, Milan 1986, Vol. II, p. 559, no. 65 T 17, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Ragionato, Milan 2006, Vol. II, p. 749, no. 65 T 17, illustrated

NOTE: The Infinite, the inconceivable chaos, the end of figuration, nothingness (the artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1999-2000, p. 198)

Lucio Fontana's lyrical and elegant Concetto Spaziale, Attese from 1965 is one of the exceptionally rare examples of 10 Tagli from his eponymous series to appear at auction. One of only two red 10 Tagli recorded in Enrico Crispolti's Catalogo Ragionato, Concetto Spaziale, Attese comprises a majestic progression of assured incisions across the pristine, sensual red canvas. The imposing presence of this work remarked by Fontana himself in the inscription on the reverse (How long is this painting - Come é lungo questo quadro) and the sharp contrast of the dramatic red surface with the blackness of the ten black slashes that seems to rhythmically dance across the picture plane immediately transport the viewer into an almost hypnotic state.

The artistic theory behind the creation of the Tagli (cuts), and before then the Buchi (holes), was professed in Fontana's first manifesto, the Manifesto Blanco, published in 1946. Here Fontana proposed the birth of a new 'spatialist' art, an art which would harness technological progression in its quest to articulate the 'fourth dimension'. The Buchi, with their agitated surfaces, penetrated and decorated, illuminate this intangible place, where movement and time are captured in space. Fontana proposed the artist as the source of creative energy, anticipating future events and engaging with technological advancement. The artist's work should aspire to enlighten ordinary people to the possibilities offered by their environment and society. Ceaselessly engaged with the scientific and technical evolutions achieved throughout the twentieth century, he incorporated these ideas into his art with a dynamic exploration of method, material and medium. A few years following the punctures and piercings of the Buchi, Fontana sharpened his gesture: the elaboration of the hole finds its definitive expression in the elegantly vigorous Tagli which would dominate Fontana's oeuvre thereafter.

This is as much a conceptual leap as it is a visual one, with the space created by the slash standing for the idea of a space without physical boundaries. Fontana was fascinated by space and energy as invisible elements essential to both life and art. For him the taglio was the distillation of pure space and pure energy in a single gesture. Yves Klein, greatly influenced by Fontana, was concomitantly exploring his own idiosyncratic solutions to the same formal and conceptual conundrums, developing his blue monochromes to enshrine in art what he dubbed the void (Fontana was one of the first to acquire such a monochrome) and conducting his Anthropometries in order to condense movement and energy into the picture plane.

Fontana began his process of making the slits by painting the canvas ground with industrial shop-bought emulsion in pure monochrome. While the canvas surface was still damp he placed it on an easel and executed the cut with a Stanley-knife in a single, precise downward movement. The canvas was then left to dry, the incision in place. There was no room for error: if the cut deviated from Fontana's desired line, the entire canvas was discarded, the work destroyed. The cut, as unrepeatable as a brushstroke, could not be corrected. Once the slit was made Fontana would enlarge the furrow with his hand, gently opening the sides of the cut in an act akin to a 'caress', as one close observer described it. To hold the cut in place, Fontana applied black gauze to the reverse, covering the cut from top to bottom. The final gesture would complete the work: the lightest touch of his hand would ease the edges of the incision slightly inwards, instilling a suggestion three dimensional form to the flat canvas.

With Concetto Spaziale, Attese, the viewer is presented with masterpiece from the series of Tagli, where apparently abstract cuts elicit an intense emotional reaction from the viewer. The ineluctable smoothness of the crimson pigment saturates the canvas like blood seeping from an open wound. Onto this seductive field of colour, ten precise and rhythmic incisions dance across the surface, penetrating as they traverse the picture plane. Each slit is of almost equal length, the harmony deliberately upset by Fontana's angling of the first and the four central cuts, and the squeezing constriction of the cuts in between. With nervous energy and dynamic force, space pulses through the openings.

The striking colour of the red canvas ground is dramatic as it is symbolic: red carries a multitude of associations. In religious imagery, red is the colour of Mary Magdalene's robes and is symbolic of Christ's Passion. We feel the sharpness of the cut, the dagger-like knife which slits and violates the pure unadulterated canvas field. The edges of each slit, as if recoiling from an assault, curl inwards creating rhythmic curved recessions leading our eye into the darkly imagined space beyond. Compositionally dynamic and mesmerising in its beauty, Concetto Spaziale, Attese embodies the artist's revolutionary spatial theories while engendering a unique dialogue with the symbolic value of colour and form.

Sotheby's. 20th Century Italian Art, 15 Oct 10, London www.sothebys.com