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

signed, titled, and inscribed Vado a Bergamo a fare una passeggiata on the reverse; waterpaint on canvas; 73 by 61cm. 28 3/4 by 24in. Executed in 1965. Estimate 450,000-650,000 GBP

PROVENANCE: La Nuova Città, Bergamo
Galleria dell'Ariete, Milan
Cleto Polcina, Rome
Private Collection, Milan
Sale: Christie's, London, Post-War and Contemporary Art, 1 July 2008, Lot 134
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

LITERATURE: Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. II, Brussels 1974, p. 159, no. 65 T 7, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Generale, Vol. II, Milan 1986, p. 557, no. 65 T 7, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo Ragionato di Sculture, Dipinti, Ambientazioni, Milan 2006, p. 747, no. 65 T 7, illustrated

NOTE: "The discovery of the Cosmos is that of a new dimension, it is the Infinite: thus I pierce this canvas, which is the basis of all arts and I have created an infinite dimension, an x which for me is the basis for all Contemporary Art" The artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Lucio Fontana, Venice/ New York, 2006, p. 19

Lucio Fontana's Concetto Spaziale, Attese from 1965 is a supremely elegant model of one of the most immediately recognisable bodies of art work of the Twentieth Century. The impressive scale of this painting confronts the viewer with a spectacular interplay between the serene grey tableau and the seven black slashes that dance across the monochrome expanse. Concetto Spaziale, Attese is a timeless expression of the Spatialist project through which Lucio Fontana so radically advanced the course of Art History. The stark cessation of the immaculate picture plane by these depthless fissures is Fontana's perfect metaphor for the termination of western easel painting and, by implication, what E.H. Gombrich legendarily termed The Story of Art.

In 1966, following the year Concetto Spaziale, Attese was executed and just two years before his early death, Fontana was awarded first prize for painting by the international jury of the XXXIII Venice Biennial, for his pavilion that featured the tagli canvases exclusively. 

The seven slender slashes simultaneously evince spontaneity and control, choreographed under the deft aegis of Fontana's blade into a rhythmic schema across the canvas; virtually as if notes across sheet music. Here the artist discards conventional reverence for the canvas and his strokes of genius attest essential risk: if the cut deviated from Fontana's desired line, the entire canvas would have been discarded. Not only did the canvas need to be perfectly taut for a successful result, but the outcome depended on the moment of the chance of the performance. The pattern of slashes is a bravura exhibition of the unrepeatable moment, repeated; the immediacy of the artist's gesture is suspended in time. The variously slanting cuts slice through the canvas weave, and energy and space pulses through these openings. Of equal importance to the cuts are the carefully deliberated spaces between, which result in a rhythmic cadence that is quite transfixing. Experienced in this way, the painting works effectively as a sculpture, with the relative distances between the viewer's eye and the three-dimensional, articulated surfaces constantly adjusting as we move around it.

Having broadcast his theory of Spatialism in five manifestos between 1946 and 1952, Fontana was to forge unthinkable advancements in artistic ideology, seeking to create a new age of Spatialist art that engaged technology and found expression for a fourth dimension and Infinity. Having been almost exclusively a sculptor until his forties, Fontana consistently invoked an artwork's material properties. Fontana's inquiry into the indeterminate zone between painting and sculpture was rooted in his abstract and figurative sculpture of the 1930s, which tested the distance between solid and void both by carving marks out of material and by creating freestanding marks in space. In close relation to Concetto Spaziale, Attese, the tavolette graffite (scratched tablets) from 1931 display fluid incisions in cement that merge and dissolve as if free-floating. Even at this early stage Fontana evinced a disregard for traditional techniques and an interest in infinite space that would be significantly developed through painting. In the Natura cycle of imperfectly shaped terracotta spheres (1959-69) deep gashes suggest orifices and geographical fault lines, further freeing the artist from the constraints of two-dimensions. In Concetto Spaziale, Attese Fontana dissects the very concept of painting, undermining forever the flat picture plane. As Fontana declared in his last recorded interview: 'I make a hole in a canvas in order to leave behind the old pictorial formulae, the painting and the traditional view of art and I escape, symbolically, but also materially, from the prison of the flat surface' (in conversation with Tommaso Trini, 19 July 1968 in: Exhibition Catalogue, Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1988, p.34).

Compositionally dynamic and mesmerising in its beauty, Concetto Spaziale, Attese embodies the artist's revolutionary Spatialist theory while engendering a unique dialogue between colour and form. Fontana offers an original interpretation of the artist's gesture: instead of letting it remain on the surface he makes it penetrate through the canvas. This edited canvas is itself an act of art historical editing: the slashes propose questions concerning the relationship between the surface and the void, about the hidden properties of material, and regarding our place in the world around. Richly connotative, we are confronted with a multitude of sensual suggestions - at slits between theatre curtains, glimmers between lips, surgical incisions - but above all, through the superbly simple flick of a knife, Fontana initiated fissures in artistic convention that were to pierce the very meaning of art. 

Sotheby's, Contemporary Art Evening Auction, London | 15 Feb 2012 www.sothebys.com