Lot 21. Lucio Fontana (1899 - 1968), Concetto Spaziale, Attese, signed, titled and inscribed 1+1 – 887Z on the reverse, waterpaint on canvas, 65 by 54 cm. 25 5/8 by 21 1/4 in. Executed in 1963. Estimate 1,800,000 — 2,500,000 GBP. Lot sold 2,415,000 GBP. Courtesy Sotheby's.
Provenance: Galleria Rotta, Genoa
Galleria Seno, Milan
Private Collection, Milan (acquired from the above in the early 1970s)
Thence by descent to the present owner.
Exhibited: Milan, Galleria Seno, Lucio Fontana, 1970, p. 30, no. 15, illustrated in colour (incorrectly titled and dated).
Literature: Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogue Raisonné des Peintures, Sculptures et Environnements Spatiaux, Vol. II, Brussels 1974, p. 135, no. 63 T 13, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Fontana: Catalogo Generale, Vol. II, Milan 1986, p. 454, no. 63 T 13, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo Ragionato di Sculture, Dipinti, Ambientazioni, Vol. II, Milan 2006, p. 641, no. 63 T 13, illustrated.
Lucio Fontana cited in: Exh. Cat., Massachusetts, Fogg Art Museum, Modern Painting, Drawing & Sculpture Collected by Louise and Joseph Pulitzer Jr, Vol 3, 1971, p. 412.
With one bold stroke, Lucio Fontana challenged the entire history of painting. Implied in his gesture is “a new beginning, for destruction carries innovation it its wake” (Erika Billeter cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006, p. 21). Having spent two years enlisted in the Italian army during World War I, Fontana experienced pure destruction first-hand, later transforming the physical wounds of war into a form of art. This was his tagli (cuts) series: precise incisions that pierce the canvas surface act as wounds representing time, space and the infinite. With its slashed and scarlet surface, Concetto Spaziale, Attese combines Fontana's most iconic symbol with the most coveted colour of his oeuvre and becomes a meeting point for the violence of war with the infinitude of the cosmos.
Born at the turn of the Nineteenth Century, Lucio Fontana was heavily influenced by the artistry of his parents. His mother, an Argentinian actress, paved the way for Fontana’s performative approach to art, and indeed the confidence of his hand and the drama of the incisions evoke an actor giving his final performance. His father, an Italian sculptor, bestowed upon the artist an obsession with materials. With the full maturation of his artistic practice by the early 1950s, Fontana was able to transform a canvas, via the most simplest of actions, into a limitless sculpture.
The theory behind Fontana’s art first came to fruition in 1946 as articulated by the Manifesto Blanco, in which he established the grounds for a new art: Spatialism. Fontana reframed the artist as a source of pure creative energy with the ability to articulate a fourth dimension. Engaging with technological advancements and anticipating scientific developments, Spatialism was to become a cutting-edge movement that pushed the limits of materiality into a philosophically limitless realm. Ever since he first punctured through the canvas in 1949, Fontana dedicated his career to the exploration and ultimate transcendence of the two-dimensional picture plane.
Fontana’s ongoing journey into the unexplored territories of the canvas gained newfound relevance in the 1960s. The Space Race had established the moon as the next frontier for human exploration and just as Yuri Gagarin pierced through the atmosphere for the first time, Fontana broke into a new artistic realm. By employing telleta, or black gauze, Fontana revealed an aesthetic void beyond the picture plane. As he famously pronounced, Fontana had finally found the infinite: “The discovery of the Cosmos is that of a new dimension, it is the Infinite: thus I pierce the 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” (Lucio Fontana cited in: ibid., p. 19).
It is worth commenting, however, that within the cosmic realms of Fontana’s tagli lies an inherent violence. The five cuts that permeate the surface are unmistakably human and in the present work their wound-like appearance is enhanced by a pulsating red pigment. In this way, Concetto Spaziala, Attese can be considered sacrificial. The cuts act as contemporary echoes of the wounds of Christ on the cross. The canvas, a sacred surface within art history, is here sacrificed by Fontana as not only a means of salvation, but of pure transcendence. In Concetto Spaziale, Attese, art, war, religion and the cosmos coalesce to deliver one of the boldest aesthetic feats in art history.
Sotheby's. Contemporary Art Evening Auction, London, 26 june 2019