Lot 41. Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, Attese, signed and titled 'L Fontana "Concetto spaziale ATTESE"' on the reverse; further inscribed 'La firma è scritta male / sono nervoso' on the reverse, waterpaint on canvas, 55.3 x 46.5 cm (21 3/4 x 18 1/4 in.). Executed in 1968, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Fondazione Lucio Fontana and is registered under no. 68 T 68. Estimate £650,000 - 850,000Image courtesy of Phillips.

ProvenanceEgidio Lanza, Intra
Centro Arte Internazionale, Milan
Private Collection, Italy (acquired from the above in September 1972)
Christie's, London, 15 October 2007, lot 218
Private Collection
Cardi Gallery, Milan
Private Collection, Miami (acquired from the above in 2014)

LiteratureEnrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogue Raisonné des Peintures, Sculptures et Environnements Spatiaux, vol. II, Brussels, 1974, no. 68 T 68, p. 200 (illustrated)
Enrico Crispolti, Fontana, Catalogo generale, vol. II, Milan, 1986, no. 68 T 68, p. 690 (illustrated)
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. II, Milan, 2006, no. 68 T 68, p. 882 (illustrated)
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni,vol. II, Milan, 2015, no. 68 T 68, p. 882 (illustrated)

NoteEnveloping the viewer in the artist’s conception of space, Concetto spaziale, Attese is a dramatic and powerful example of Lucio Fontana’s tagli - or cuts - a body of works Fontana made in Milan between 1958 and 1968. Exemplary of his concern with dimensionality, with two clean central incisions, the present work marks a decade since the artist’s first experimentations with tagli. From the final year of Fontana’s life and career, the present work was executed at the critical height of the esteemed artist’s oeuvre.

The pair of vertical cuts in the present work affords the canvas an almost architectural absoluteness. The powerful, serene and pure blue of the ground colour echoes the same hues of the artist’s very first work from the tagli series. Here, the vibrant blue paired with the two clean slashes creates a serene and balanced composition which explores the realm and limitations of cosmic space. The initial impact of the intense and meditative blue, recalls Fontana’s friend and fellow artist Yves Klein’s trademarked and chosen tone. Since 1957, when Klein first exhibited his Blue Monochrome paintings at the Apollinaire Gallery in Milan, Fontana had admired the French artist and the infinite effects of the colour blue. Like Klein, Fontana utilised the uniformly painted canvas to enhance the viewer’s perception and consciousness of space.

In Concetto spaziale, Attese purity prevails in the clean lines and deep blue of the composition. The concentrated tranquillity of the work echoes the pure and sublime environment created by the artist for his presentation at the 1966 Venice Biennale, an installation of white canvasses for which he won the grand prize. Fontana presented an entire room filled with his tagli paintings; this meditative space was designed to give ‘the spectator an impression of spatial calm, of cosmic rigour, of serenity in infinity’ (Lucio Fontana, quoted in Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo Ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. I, Milan, 2006, p. 105).

Underpinned by a revolutionary shift towards new media and fascination with the relationship between artworks and their environment, Fontana’s tagli examine the dimensionality of space. Despite his consistent and active violation of the canvas plane, the artist’s work is neither violent nor destructive but rather representative of an eloquent and visual argument for a radical expansion of the medium of painting. Through his slashes, an act of liberation, Fontana actively opens the canvas and reveals a new dimension. Manipulating matter, the artist forged new spaces for the visualization of his ideas. Elaborating on his motives and quest toward the eternal, his Manifesto Spaziale(spatialist manifesto) asserted: ‘We believe that art liberates matter, the meaning of eternity from the concern for mortality. We are not interested in whether a completed gesture lives for a moment or a millennium, since we are truly convinced that it will be eternal after it has been accomplished’ (Lucio Fontana, Primo Manifesto spaziale, Milan, 1947).

The tagli series, meditative and monochrome disrupted canvas planes, is delineated by a varying number of slashes. From single, gestural and curved incisions, to multiple cuts, slashed in opposite directions or rhythmic repetitions, each cut represents Fontana’s conscious and thoughtful working method. Offering further insight into the artist’s creative psyche is the text he inscribed onto the verso of his paintings from 1964 onwards. On the reverse of his tagli works with one cut the artist wrote ‘Attesa’ – or hope. On the reverse of works with multiple cuts, like the present painting, Fontana penned the plural form of hope, ‘Attese’, adding temporal dimension to his more generic title of Concetto spaziale (Spatial Concept). In 1958, the same year he commenced his tagli series, the artist stopped signing his works on the front to avoid detracting from the purity of the painting itself.

Keenly interested in the modernisation of science and technology, and the increased impact thereof on contemporary living, the artist celebrated the importance of his own action in the active manipulation of medium and slashing the canvas. He created his iconic tagli with a Stanley Knife; making single downward motions through damp canvas he subsequently broadened the incisions by pulling them apart by hand and curving them inwards before fastening them with black gauze on the reverse. This manual, visceral and tactile process emphasises the artist’s concern with the manipulation of space and his move away from automation. Further refusing to accept modern industrialisation and the increased mechanisation of art, Fontana added personal sentences to the reverse of his canvasses. The present work is inscribed ‘La firma e’scritta male – sono nervoso’ (The signature is badly written, I am nervous), adding personal and human intervention to the reverse of the canvas, 

Pivotal to his tagli series is the notion of the artwork simultaneously representing reality and appearance. In line with the title, Concetto spaziale, Attese, the composition is not just about space but rather a spatial concept and the potential of dimensionality. Through slashing his canvasses, the artist moves towards infinity whilst revealing an active and vital quality. Through his concern with the dimensions of space, Fontana holds a singular position in the canon of 20th century art history. Meditatively interrogating the interaction between ruin and construction through the juxtaposition of void and pure canvas ground, the present composition is a fundamental work from the height of Fontana’s artistic output.

Phillips. 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, London Auction, 8 March 2018.