Lot 108. Lucio Fontana (1899-1968), La Silla Barroca, incised with the artist's signature and dated ‘46 L. FONTANA’ (on the base); plaster, 47¼ x 25 7/8 x 31½in. (120 x 65 x 80cm). Executed in 1946. Estimate GBP 400,000 - GBP 600,000. Price realised GBP 647,250. © Christie's Images Ltd 2019.
Provenance: Pablo Edelstein Collection, Buenos Aires (acquired directly from the artist).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Literature: J. Corradini, "Lucio Fontana Profeta del Arte Espacial" in Histonium, A. VIII, No. 94, Buenos Aires, 1947 (illustrated, p. 168).
Continente, no. 50, 1951, no. 1 (illustrated, p. 104).
M. Tapié, Devenir de Fontana, 1961 (illustrated and dated 1945, unpaged).
M. Tapié, Fontana, 1962 (illustrated, unpaged).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogue raisonné des peintures, sculptures et environnements spatiaux, Vol. II, Brussels 1974, no. 45 SC 4 (illustrated, p. 21).
E. Crispolti, Fontana, Catalogo Generale, Vol. I, Milan 1986, no. 45 SC 4 (illustrated, p. 84).
Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1987, p. 366 (illustrated and dated 1945, p. 367).
E. Crispolti, Fontana, 1999, p. 289, no. 72 (illustrated and dated 1945, p. 26).
E. Crispolti, Centenario di Lucio Fontana, 1999 (illustrated and dated 1945, p. 34).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Obras maestras de la Fundación Lucio Fontana de Milàn, Buenos Aires 1999 (illustrated, p. 21).
Lucio Fontana, metafore barocche, exh. cat., Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea Palazzo Forti, Verona, 2002 (illustrated, p. 16).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, Vol. I, Milan 2006, no. 46 SC 16, (illustrated, p. 205).
Exhibited: Buenos Aires, XXXVI Salón Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1946, no. 32.
Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Lucio Fontana, 1998, no. 2/S/6 (illustrated, p. 127).
Buenos Aires, Centro Cultural Borges, Museo Juan B. Castagnino, Lucio Fontana: Profeta del Espacio, 1999, no. 45 ESC 4 (illustrated, p. 97).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lucio Fontana: On the Threshold, 2019, p. 223, no. 23 (illustrated in colour, p. 99).
La Silla Barroca was created in 1946, one of the most important years in Lucio Fontana’s career. With its swirling surface animated by peaks and rivulets of vigorously modelled, luminous white plaster, La Silla Barroca combines the artist’s distinctive form of expressive figuration with the concepts of nascent Spatialism, the bold and radical movement that he founded in Milan the following year. It was during this pivotal moment that Fontana, who was living, working and teaching in Buenos Aires, oversaw the writing of the Manifesto Blanco, a revelatory tract which offered the first definition of Spatialism. At this time Buenos Aires was an intellectual and artistic melting pot, providing Fontana the perfect climate in which to develop his ideas for an art form that would be freed from convention, breaking through the limits of the canvas to instead embody dynamic concepts of space, light and time. Fontana gave La Silla Barroca to Pablo Edelstein, an Argentine sculptor who was one of his students at the art school he cofounded, Altamira: Free School of Plastic Arts, and co-author of the Manifesto Blanco. Edelstein would become a lifelong friend of the artist, this gift serving as a testament to their enduring friendship.
The title of the present work – the Baroque chair – encapsulates one of the central interests for Fontana at this time: the art of the Baroque. ‘[the] Baroque was a leap ahead’, the Manifesto Blanco declared, ‘it represented space with a magnificence that is still unsurpassed and added the notion of time to the plastic arts. The figures seemed to abandon the flat surface and continue the represented movements in space’ (Manifesto Blanco, 1946, in E. Crispolti and R. Siligato, eds., Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Rome, 1998, p. 115). It was the gestural, dynamic illustration of movement that defines Baroque style, which served as an important influence on Fontana’s sculpture at this time. Taking a traditional subject – here a seated woman – Fontana shunned the cold, static and smooth surfaces of classical sculpture and instead modelled the figure with an intense dynamism, the vigorously modelled plaster serving to illustrate a sense of vital energy pulsing beneath the surface.
Pablo Edelstein recalled watching Fontana at work, his vivid description providing a fascinating glimpse into the way the artist would have created La Silla Barroca: ‘His expansive, dynamic, and explosive character, his fantasies, everything was unequivocally visible in his daily activity, in the precise movements of his hands, in his energetic modelling in clay, in the grinding of his teeth and the tension of his jaws and his knitted brows, the sign of his concentration and urgency in the execution of his ideas. That accumulation of energies might be compared with a harquebus just before it is fired, or with a falcon about to swoop on its prey. While working, he required a controlled state of excitement, and so he also encouraged his students to shake off their lethargy, to work with a certain rage, as though they were letting off steam after being told off for something. It might sound like a game, but for him it was like a matter of life and death. When I saw Fontana work, I became aware for the first time of the importance of the gestural in execution, something that gained general recognition years later when Art Informel and action painting became fashionable’ (P. Edelstein, in A. Giunta, ‘The War Years: Fontana in Argentina’, in Lucio Fontana: On the Threshold, exh. cat., New York, 2019, pp. 46-47).
Lot 109. Lucio Fontana (1899-1968), [Concetto spaziale], signed and dated ‘l. Fontana 1954’ (lower right), steel, 23 3/8 x 39 3/8in. (60 x 100 cm). Executed in 1954. Estimate On Request. Price realised GBP 3,724,750. © Christie's Images Ltd 2019.
Provenance: Galleria dell’Ariete, Milan.
Lechien Collection, Brussels.
Krebs Collection, Brussels.
Ragni Collection, Pavia.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in the 1970s.
Literature: E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana. Catalogue raisonné des peintures, sculptures et environnements spatiaux, Brussels 1974, vol. II, no. 62 ME 37 (illustrated, p. 125).
E. Crispolti, Fontana. Catalogo generale, Milan 1986, vol. II, no. 62 ME 37 (illustrated, p. 419).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana. Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, Milan 2006, vol. II, no. 62 ME 37 (illustrated, p. 603).
Exhibited: Paris, XXème Siècle, Le Relief, 1962 (illustrated, unpaged).
‘I wanted to be a sculptor, I would have liked to be a painter, too, like my grandfather, but I realised that these specific art terms are not for me, and I felt like a Spatial artist. That’s exactly it: a butterfly in space exists in my imagination; having freed myself from rhetoric, I lose myself in time and begin with holes’
‘I can’t conceive of a new art being made with traditional means, canvases, colours, and sculpture – we can use these means in a transitional way, in order to prepare us for a new aesthetic, but we will achieve a real transformation in art only if we enter into the dominion of modern techniques…’
‘I use them [materials], I am not dominated by them: I use them to allude to something else, to something with an infinite quality’
‘the hole is the beginning of a sculpture in space’
‘[Fontana] is the enemy of media purity, and chooses the ambiguous borders between the arts, where paintings look like sculpture and sculpture meets painting halfway, in a series of overlappings and conflations’
A dazzling, cosmic vision of light and movement, Lucio Fontana’s [Concetto spaziale] is among the earliest metal buchi of this kind, a rare and important work that encapsulates the spirit of discovery and restless exploration that defines the artist’s groundbreaking career. A gleaming icon of early Spatialism, this work was executed in 1954, a period of intense experimentation in Fontana’s career, as he explored, with an indefatigable zeal, the myriad aesthetic possibilities of perhaps his greatest artistic act: the hole. Here, the luminous steel surface is punctured with rows of the artist’s signature holes or buchi that follow a loosely horizontal formation, all enclosed by a mysterious single line incised into the ever-changing reflective surface. Prefiguring the monumental, architectonic Metalli, [Concetto spaziale] is a fantastical fusion of material, light and space, the three central concepts that unite the artist’s diverse practice. Evading traditional definitions of painting, sculpture and architecture, it also anticipates the radical work of Burri, Manzoni and Castellani, as well as the American Minimalists of the 1960s.
The only work of its kind from this period, [Concetto spaziale] anticipates the Metalli, the iconic series that Fontana began just under a decade later, in 1962. This group was inspired by Fontana’s first and only trip to New York. Amidst the frenetic metropolis, he was overwhelmed by the skyscrapers, towering totems of metal and glass and soaring symbols of technological and mechanical might. The city’s sparkling skyline of blinking lights seemed to make visible the imperceptible workings of the cosmos. The Metalli that followed sought to capture these revelations. ‘How was I to paint this terrible New York?’ he asked himself. ‘Then all of a sudden I had an intuition: I took some sheets of shiny metal and set to work, sometimes scratching them vertically to convey the idea of sky-scrapers, sometimes puncturing them with a metal punch, sometimes flexing them to suggest dramatic skies… no other material so successfully captures the sense of this Metropolis made all of glass, of window panes, orgies of light, and the dazzle of metal’ (Fontana, quoted in L. Massimo Barbero, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, exh. cat., New York, 2006, p. 45). Unlike the Venezie, the group executed a year earlier and the only other series to be directly inspired by a specific location, in which Fontana often lavished swathes of gold and silver metallic paint upon the surface of the canvas, before incising swirling patterns, holes or in one case, finger prints to echo the opulent Byzantine and Baroque architecture of the city, the Metalli embody the stark minimalism and modernity of New York. Austere sheets of copper, brass and aluminium were the only way he could capture the brash vitality of the city, as he incised both slashes and punctures into the unbending surfaces.
With its constellation-like trails of holes and reflective silver surface, [Concetto spaziale] appears like an artwork from outer space. Crafted from steel, an industrial, highly unorthodox artistic material, and imbued with a cosmic serenity that defines so many of Fontana’s Spatialist art works, it provides the perfect answer to the artist’s statement: ‘In the Space Age, spatial art’ (Fontana, quoted in S. Petersen, Space-Age Aesthetics: Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, and the Postwar European Avant-Garde, 1963, Pennsylvania, p. 47). Captivated by the revelatory scientific, cosmic and technological discoveries of the post-war era, Fontana believed that art had to embody the spirit of the times. As man’s conception of the universe and the cosmos was radically revised thanks to scientific and technological innovation, Fontana felt that conventional forms of painting and sculpture were no longer sufficient in aptly reflecting the world in which he lived. The Manifesto Blanco, written by Fontana’s students in Buenos Aires in 1946, explained the urgent need to overturn tradition: ‘The discovery of new physical forces, control over matter and space gradually impose conditions that have never existed in the whole course of history… Painted canvas and upright plaster no longer have a reason to exist… We need to go beyond painting, sculpture, poetry, and music. We need a greater art in harmony with the requirements of the new spirit’ (Manifesto Blanco, 1946, in E. Crispolti & R. Siligato, eds., Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Rome, 1998, p. 116-117).
In 1949, five years before he executed the present work, Fontana began to realise these ambitious artistic aims when he made his most important breakthrough: the hole. Beginning by puncturing pieces of white card before moving to canvas, he immediately realised the significance of this gesture. By breaking through the inviolable surface of the picture plane, he found that he could integrate space – both physically and conceptually – into the artwork. No longer was the pictorial support simply a flat repository for illusionistic descriptions or abstract outpourings, but it instead became a three-dimensional object that integrated space and light. On a metaphorical level, the black chasms of empty space that were revealed through these punctures, served, Fontana realised, as evocations of the cosmos and its infinite space: ‘When I hit the canvas I sensed that I had made an important gesture. It was, in fact, not an incidental hole, it was a conscious hole: by making a hole in the picture I found a new dimension in the void. By making holes in the picture I invented the fourth dimension’ (Fontana, quoted in P. Gottschaller, Lucio Fontana: The Artist’s Materials, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 21).
The inauguration of the buchi marked the beginning of a period of intense artistic exploration, of which [Concetto spaziale] dates from the peak. It was not long before he began experimenting with different materials in the creation of these punctured works. In 1951, he introduced colour to the monochrome canvases, often applying gestural sweeps and streaks of Informel-esque impastoed pigment; and the same year, he began another cycle, the Pietre or ‘Stones’, which saw him affix pieces of coloured Murano glass to the pierced surfaces, thereby integrating shimmering reflections of light. Alongside these canvas-based works, in 1954, Fontana returned to what Enrico Crispolti described as Sculpture spaziale: terracotta ‘tablets’, which were incised with various arrangements of buchi. Related both to the more sculptural terracottas as well as the canvas-based buchi, the present work is a rare synthesis of painting and sculpture, bridging these divisions to exist as a true ‘spatial concept’.
In this restless quest for artistic discovery, it is therefore not surprising that Fontana soon turned his hand to metal in the creation of the buchi. As Luca Massimo Barbero has noted, ‘metal, the way light reflects from it and at the same time penetrates, revealing its plasticity, had always represented a challenge for [Fontana]’ (L. Massimo Barbero, op. cit., p. 24). Over the course of his career, Fontana turned time again both to metal as well as metallic paint, revelling both in the cosmic allusions of this material – it conjures visions of aluminium space craft, reflective astronaut suits and the silver surface of the moon – as well as its reflective qualities, which allowed him to integrate light as a dynamic part of his art works.
While Fontana had used tin in a few earlier buchi, which feature densely impastoed surfaces and swirling formations of holes, it was not until 1954 that he enlisted the sleek, reflective surface of steel in the creation of his buchi. Using a large sheet of this material, in the present work, he pierced through the reflective surface from both sides, creating gently undulating constellations of holes in a horizontal formation – a similar composition to some of the canvas buchi he had executed the year prior. More than painted canvas or terracotta, the steel is constantly reflecting patterns of light and shadow, both across the punctured surface and into the space it occupies. As a result, it is not just real space that is integrated into the work itself, but, most importantly, light and movement. With its elegant formation of holes and shining surface, [Concetto spaziale] sees Fontana attain a visual and conceptual purity, as both material and gesture balance in perfect accord. With [Concetto spaziale], Fontana succeeded in creating art that transcended not only media distinctions but material itself; making, in his own words, work that was, ‘neither painting nor sculpture, [but] luminous shape in space – emotive freedom for the spectator’ (Fontana, quoted in P. Gottschaller, op. cit., p. 18).
Lot 115. Lucio Fontana (1899-1968), Concetto spaziale, Attesa, signed, titled and inscribed 'l. Fontana "Concetto Spaziale" ATTESA Lucia protesta perchè il quadro è bianco...' (on the reverse), waterpaint on canvas, 24 1/8 x 19 5/8in. (61.3 x 50cm). Executed in 1964. Estimate GBP 700,000 - GBP 1,000,000. Price realised GBP 1,931,250. © Christie's Images Ltd 2019.
Provenance: E. Zagni Collection, Genoa.
F. Battino Collection, Milan.
Anon. sale, Brerarte Milan, 18 March 1982, lot 40.
Galleria Pero, Milan.
Galleria La Bottega del Quadro, Bergamo.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in the second half of the 1980s.
Literature: E. Crispolti, Fontana. Catalogo generale, Milan, 1986, vol. II, no. 64 T 140 (illustrated, p. 542).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana. Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. II, Milan, 2006, no. 64 T 140 (illustrated, p. 727).
‘My art is directed towards this purity, it is based on the philosophy of nothingness, a nothingness that does not imply destruction, but a nothingness of creation…’
‘I am seeking to represent the void. Humanity, accepting the idea of Infinity, has already accepted the idea of Nothingness. And today Nothingness is a mathematical formula.’
‘We need a change in essence and in form. We need to go beyond painting, sculpture, poetry, and music. We need a greater art in harmony with the requirements of the new spirit’
‘Lucia complains because the canvas is white’
Traversing almost the entire length of the canvas, the elegant, irrevocable cut of Concetto spaziale, Attesa offers a wealth of visual interpretations. Revealing a slim sliver of darkness, the incision provides a portal to another realm, an unknowable, indefinite and perhaps infinite spatial domain, a fourth dimension. Both violent and peaceful, destructive and creative, literal and conceptual, this gesture saw Lucio Fontana achieve his artistic aims, creating, in his own words, ‘a formula that I think I cannot perfect… I succeeded in giving those looking at my work a sense of spatial calm, of cosmic rigour, of serenity with regard to the Infinite. Further than this I could not go’ (Fontana, quoted in P. Gottschaller, Lucio Fontana: The Artist’s Materials, Los Angeles, 2012, p. 58).
Fontana first discovered the cool, enigmatic and paradoxical aesthetic power of the cut in 1958. He had famously punctured the canvas just under a decade before this, when he inaugurated his buchi or holes. Supposedly frustrated by his inability to transcend the ever increasing materiality that defined his work in series such as the barocchi or pietre, he slashed through a canvas in a fit of rage. Upon realising what he had done, he started deliberately slicing down the previously inviolable flat surface of the canvas. In so doing, he found that he could incorporate physical space into the picture plane – as he had been doing with his punctured buchi – but at the same time, the elegant, cadenced, almost calligraphic gesture had a serenity and an aesthetic power that transcended the physicality of the act to instead embody a timeless beauty; as Fontana described, ‘attesa is a timeless place, or nothingness… it is the pure idea embodied in the act, in the gesture of cutting, and at the same time it becomes… form, without passing through the medium of matter’ (Fontana, in P. Campiglio, Lucio Fontana: Lettere 1919-1968, Milan, 1999, p. 25).
With the slash, Fontana believed that he had invented a gesture that would transcend the boundaries of earthly time. The cut was an eternal gesture that, unlike material itself, which would inevitably decay over years, existed without end. ‘We plan to separate art from matter’, he had declared in the Primo Manifesto spaziale of 1947, ‘to separate the sense of the eternal from the concern with the immortal. And it doesn’t matter to us if a gesture, once accomplished, lives for a moment or a millennium, for we are convinced that, having accomplished it, it is eternal’ (Primo Manifesto spaziale, 1947, op. cit., p. 118). It was with works such as Concetto spaziale, Attesa that Fontana achieved an absolute clarity, the highly concentrated act of slicing the canvas serving as the climax of his artistic explorations.
The Attese are also the embodiment of the time in which they were created; powerful emblems of the spirit of discovery that defines the post-war era, as well as haunting reminders of the fear of the unknown that lay beneath the euphoria. The 1960s were a time of convulsive, turbulent change. With a rapt, near zealous fascination for science and technology, Fontana watched with ever increasing awe as the earth’s atmosphere was breached, first with satellites, before man himself conquered space. Just as mankind was conquering new worlds, so Fontana believed that art had to breach new frontiers. He was determined, as the Futurists had been before him, that art should reflect these pioneering new times, quickly recognising that traditional forms of painting and sculpture were unable to aptly convey the new concepts of space and time that had been discovered. In the face of explosive technological and scientific innovation and change, what use, he asked, did illusionistic painted representations on canvas have? ‘Think about when there are big space stations’, he asked. ‘Do you think that the men of the future will build columns with capitals there? Or that they will call painters to paint?... No, art, as it is thought of today, will end’ (Fontana, quoted in A. White, ‘Art Beyond the Globe: Lucio Fontana’s Spatial Identity’ emaj, no. 3, 2008, p. 2).
Contemporary art, Fontana believed, needed to come out of its frame and off its pedestal to instead incorporate and therefore exist in real time, space and movement. It was upon his return to Milan in 1947 following a seven-year sojourn in Buenos Aires that these ideas took shape. While in Argentina, he had already published a manifesto, the Manifesto Blanco, in which, borrowing the rhetoric of his Futurist forebears, Fontana denounced traditional forms of painting and sculpture, instead calling for an art that embodied the spirit of the intrepid, rapidly changing times. ‘We need a change in essence and in form’, the manifesto declared. ‘We need to go beyond painting, sculpture, poetry, and music. We need a greater art in harmony with the requirements of the new spirit’ (Manifesto Blanco, 1946 in E. Crispolti & R. Siligato, eds., Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Rome, 1998, p. 115). A year later, Fontana presented a second tract entitled Primo Manifesto spaziale, which presented the central tenets of Fontana’s newly founded Spatialism, the movement to which he would remain devoted for the rest of his career. ‘We refuse to believe that science and art are two distinct facts, that the gestures accomplished by one of the two activities cannot also belong to the other’, Fontana declared in this text, surmising the central aspects of the movement. ‘Artists anticipate scientific gestures, scientific gestures always provoke artistic gestures’ (Primo Manifesto spaziale, 1947, ibid., p. 118).
Perhaps more than any post-war artist, Fontana’s work captures the anticipatory spirit of the epoch. A time of revelatory discoveries – both scientific and technological – man’s place within the universe had been completely redefined and human potential radically reconsidered. Contemporary life was filled with new questions and possibilities: if man could leave the earth’s atmosphere and exist in space, would it one day be possible for him to live on the moon? Space travel changed the course of the 20th Century and, by trying to capture and distil this same sense of pioneering exploration, Fontana too altered the course of post-war art. ‘In future there will no longer be art the way we understand it’, he declared. ‘No, art, the way we think about it today will cease… there’ll be something else. I make these cuts and these holes, these Attese and these Concetti… Compared to the Spatial era I am merely a man making signs in the sand. I made these holes. But what are they? They are the mystery of the Unknown in art, they are the Expectation of something that must follow’ (Fontana, quoted in L. M. Barbero, ‘Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York’ in L. M. Barbero, ed., Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, exh. cat., New York, 2006, p. 47). Working in a time in which a new realm of human consciousness had been revealed, Fontana’s Attese served to reflect this, offering, through a new art form, a spiritual liberation.
Christie's. Thinking Italian Evening Auction, London, 4 October 2019