Lucio Fontana (1899-1968), Concetto spaziale. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2010
signed 'l. Fontana' (lower right); signed and titled 'l. Fontana "Concetto Spaziale"' (on the reverse), oil on canvas; 39 3/8 x 31¾in. (100 x 80.5cm.). Executed in 1962-63 - Estimate £500,000 - £700,000. Price Realized £601,250
Provenance: Galerie m Bochum, Bochum.
Private Collection, Germany.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Notes: This work is registred in the Archivio Lucio Fontana, Milan.
Concetto spaziale belongs among Fontana's Olii, the ongoing series of monochrome oil paintings that he began in 1960 and which culminated in 1961 with the Venice cycle of paintings and in 1963 with the Fine di Dio (End of God) paintings.
At first, predominantly white or a soft fleshy pink in colour, the Olii aimed to incorporate the sumptuous, malleable and material qualities of the traditional medium of oil paint into Fontana's 'Spatialist' aesthetic. They were, in essence, a development of the Informel nature of his earlier works with the buchi and the tagli and allowed Fontana - the sculptor, the further potential to engage more directly with the plastic nature of 'Spatialist' painting. In the Olii Fontana began to trace fine and delicate meandering lines into the thick oily surface of these monochrome canvases, and to combine these with a strangely expressive anthropomorphism in the way in which he also heavily punctured the canvas with usually one or as here two large central holes or wounds. The articulation of these holes was especially important to Fontana who was seeking through them to express a similar sense of anguish to that which he had explored in the craters and gashes of his clay seed-pod-like Natura or 'Nature sculptures' of 1959 and 60.
In the Olii, and in the pink Olii especially, where the colour more clearly resembled flesh or skin, Fontana began to revel in the building of sensual, flesh-like mounds of paint that he formed around the gaping wound-like holes at the centre of the canvas. As in the Natura, these often deliberately vaginal or stigmata-like holes in the oily pink canvas established a visual paradox that seemed to evoke a simultaneous sense of pleasure and pain. For Fontana the sensation provoked by these enigmatic punctures in the canvas echoed the pleasure of man's liberation in space and the existential birth death scream of pain that he saw accompanying this transition. The 'slightly strident and jarring' nature of the Olii, Fontana told Grazia Livi in 1962, was deliberately intended to 'symbolize the unsettled nature of the modern man. The fine outline...(drawn into the oily surface)... is the itinerary of man in space, his surprise and fear of getting lost; the cut, lastly, is a sudden scream of pain, the final release of deep anguish that in the end becomes unbearable.' (Interview with Grazia Livi in Vanita VI, n. 13, Autumn, 1962, p. 53)
In addition to this, Fontana's near mystical understanding of the concept of the penetration of matter by space in these works developed into a metaphor for the spiritual transformation of man and his notion that in the space-age of the future, the body of man would be transformed into pure spirit. Essentially an hermetic concept, mirroring both the aims of the alchemists in their search for the sacred spirit or elixir of life hidden within the body of matter as well as recent developments in quantum physics and of course, the story of the Christ's Resurrection, this concept of the transmutation of body into soul or flesh into spirit is also central to the flesh-like nature of the Olii.
The dramatic contrast between the pink, oily, flesh-like surface of this work for example and the twin empty, dark, impenetrable black holes of space in its material surface invoke both the strange transformation of the work into space and a profound the sense of wounding and of haunting screams of existential and physical pain that Fontana believed must accompany this evolutionary rebirth of man. The punctures, or wounds in the skin of the canvas are also a spiritual release and in this way the painting becomes not only an image of physical transformation but also one of martyrdom as well as transcendence and change. They are, as he told Mario Pancera, ultimately, spatial representations of 'man's suffering in space, the suffering of the astronaut, who is squashed and compressed with instruments penetrating his skin... (for)... the man who flies in space is a new kind of man, with new sensations, above all painful.' (Fontana cited in Lucio Fontana exh. cat. Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, 1998, p. 244.)
Christie's. The Italian Sale, 14 October 2010, London, King Street www.christies.com