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

signed, titled and inscribed oggi quanta tristeza, quanta voglia di…on the reverse; waterpaint on canvas; 54.5 by 46cm.; 21 1/2 by 18 1/8 in. Executed in 1966. Estimation: 500,000 - 600,000 GBP

PROVENANCE: Institute of Contemporary Art, London, 1967
Pines Collection, New York
Studio Casoli, MilanAcquired from the above by the present owner circa 2003

LITTERATURE: Enrico Crispolti, Catalogue Raisonné des Peintures, Sculptures et Environnements Spatiaux, Vol. II, Brussels 1974, pp. 180-1, no. 66 T 27, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo Generale, Vol. II, Milan 1986, p. 634, no. 66 T 27, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo Ragionato di Sculture, Dipinti, Ambientazioni, Vol. II, Milan 2006, p. 828, no. 66 T 27, illustrated

NOTE DE CATALOGUE: Executed in 1966, the present work is a stunning exemplification of Lucio Fontana’s groundbreaking scrutiny of the two-dimensional picture plane. Brilliantly balanced, two iconic slashes are arranged symetrically, their harmony in stark contrast to the violence of Fontana’s assault upon his medium. Motivated by a desire to break from the constraints of the traditional Western canvas, his cuts were intended to dematerialise its surface with profound spiritual consequences. Fontana explained in 1962: “[m]y cuts are above all a philosophical statement, an act of faith in the infinite, an affirmation of spirituality. When I sit down to contemplate one of my cuts, I sense all at once an enlargement of the spirit, I feel like a man freed from the shackles of matter, a man at one with the immensity of the present and of the future” (the artist in 1962, quoted in: Exhibition Catalogue, Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection; New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006-7, p. 23).

By the mid-1960s Fontana had established the cut as his principal painterly vernacular. Here, the serenely white monochrome and its elegantly fissured surface deliver a mesmerising and commanding exemplar of Fontana's revolutionary dialectic between painting and sculpture, surface and the void. By discarding traditional reverence for the canvas as an illusionistic window onto another world, Fontana's radical singular gesture cuts open artifice and exposes the abyssal black behind such an artistic fallacy. Pure-white and elegantly simple, the immaculate wound of Fontana's lacerations evokes the dynamic and momentary force of radiating light. The alluring white arena of Concetto Spaziale, Attese acts as an apt parallel to Fontana's idea of the artist as the source of creative energy.

In dialogue with the sculptural quality of alabaster or Carrara marble, the material of the artist's formative sculptural training in the studio of Adolfo Wildt, Fontana parallels Michelangelo's revolt against polished marble. In Fontana’swords, Michalengelo "wants to virtually abolish it, and he makes his last Pietà as though he wanted only to make them from pure spirit, from pure light" (the artist cited in: Sarah Whitfield, 'Handling Space' in: Exhibition Catalogue, London Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 2000, p. 42). Reduced to the very elemental optical polarities of light and shade, black and white, the sculpturally ruptured white picture plane succinctly embodies the artist's revolutionary spatial theories while engendering a unique dialogue with the symbolic value of colour and form.

Fontana began Concetto Spaziale, Attese by saturating the canvas ground with industrial shop-bought emulsion in pure monochrome. While the canvas surface was still damp, the work was positioned on an easel and cut with a Stanley knife in a single, precise downward movement. The canvas was then left to dry with the incision in place. There was no room for error: if the cut deviated from Fontana's desired line, the entire canvas was discarded and the work destroyed. The incision, as unrepeatable as a brushstroke, could not be corrected. Once the slit was made Fontana would engorge and gently open out the cut with his hand, a gesture described by a close friend of Fontana's as a "caress" (Sarah Whitfield, 'Handling Space' in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 2000, p. 18). To hold the cut in place, Fontana applied black gauze to the reverse, covering the cut from top to bottom. Richly suggestive, we are left with a multitude of symbolic and theoretical allusions, however, above all via one superbly elegant gesture, Fontana initiated a fissure in artistic convention that was to pierce the very meaning of art.

Sotheby's. 20th Century Italian Art. London | 12 oct. 2012 www.sothebys.com