Lot 109. Lucio Fontana (1899 - 1968), Concetto spaziale, Attese, signed L. Fontana, titled Concetto spaziale Attese and inscribed Quanta malinconia e tristezza (on the verso), waterpaint on canvas, 100.3 by 81 cm. 39½ by 31⅞ in. Lot sold: 3,787,000 GBP (Estimate: 3,000,000 - 4,000,000 GBP). © Christie's 2022
Property from a European Collection.
Literature: Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Ragionato di Sculture, Dipinti, Ambientazioni, Milan, 2006, Vol. II, p. 741, no. 64-65 T 59, illustrated.
Note: A progression of five assured incisions across a sumptuous red canvas, Lucio Fontana’s lyrical Concetto spaziale, Attese from 1964-65, is a rare large-scale example of the artist’s venerated series of tagli. The present work fuses seductive chromatic power with the preoccupation at the core of Spatialism: the infinity of space. Here, five rhythmic incisions dance across an opulent surface, penetrating the picture plane as they traverse the composition. The brilliance of the red ground amplifies the profound darkness of the plunging black recesses that aptly signify Fontana’s quest for "the Infinite, the inconceivable chaos, the end of figuration, nothingness" (Lucio Fontana quoted in: Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1999-2000, p. 198). Created two years before the artist’s major exhibition at the Venice Biennale XXXIII, where Fontana was awarded first prize for his entirely white Ambienti Spaziale (Spatial Environment), Concetto Spaziale, Attese was executed at the height of the artist’s truly ground-breaking conceptual dialogue.
Lucio Fontana, 1960, Image: © Scala, Florence/Bpk, Bildagentur Fuer Kunst, Kultur Und Geschichte, Berlin. Photo: Charles Wilp Artwork: © Lucio Fontana/Siae/Dacs, London 2022
The five lyrically slender slashes simultaneously evince spontaneity and control, choreographed under the deft aegis of Fontana's blade into a rhythmic dance; 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 chance in the performance. The pattern of slashes is thus a bravura exhibition of the unrepeatable moment, repeated. The immediacy of the artist's gesture is suspended in time. Energy and space pulses through the black openings, imbuing in the work a sculptural quality: the relative distances between the viewer's eye and the three-dimensional, articulated surfaces constantly adjust as we move around the work. Of equal importance to the cuts are the carefully deliberated spaces between, which in turn provide echoes that result in a rhythmic cadence that is transfixing and unique among the tagli series. The red monochrome field of Concetto Spaziale, Attese is a mesmerising expanse, harnessing powerful connotations of passion and violence.
Caravaggio, Saint Matthew And The Angel, 1602, Church Of San Luigi Dei Francesi, Rome. Image: © Scala, Florence
Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild, 1991, Private Collection. Image/Artwork: © Gerhard Richter 2022 (0034)
The artistic theory behind the creation of Fontana’s revolutionary tagli (cuts), and before them his buchi (holes), was professed in the artist’s first manifesto, the Manifiesto Bianco, published in 1946. Here Fontana proposed the concept of Spatialism, which sought to articulate the fourth dimension and sparked a unique dialogue with the ‘dimensionality’ of painting. Not only did Fontana invite three dimensions into the traditionally flat canvas ground, but his rupture of the picture plane and revelation of a blackened void beyond, implored a metaphysical dialogue with the fourth dimension and its enigmatic comingling of both time and space. A fascination with the unknowable void and concept of energy as an invisible force are summated by the mesmerising effect of Fontana’s defined slashes. As outlined by the artist: “With the slash I invited a formula that I don’t think I can perfect. I managed with this formula 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).
Lucio Fontana, Milan, 1965. Image: Lothar Wolleh © Lothar Wolleh Estate, Berlin
Compositionally dynamic and enthralling 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.
Lot 139. Lucio Fontana (1899 - 1968), Concetto spaziale, Attese, signed L. Fontana, titled Concetto spaziale Attese and inscribed / ieri sera ho trovato / Dova in smoching elegan- / tissimo (on the verso), waterpaint on canvas, 73 by 60 cm. 28 ¾ by 23 ⅝ in. Executed in 1966. Lot sold: 1,971,000 GBP (Estimate: 1,500,000 - 2,000,000 GBP). © Christie's 2022
Property from a Private Collection, Switzerland.
Exhibited: Padova, Galleria La Chiocciola, Lucio Fontana, April 1968, n.p., illustrated
Note: Lucio Fontana’s rhythmic and elegant Concetto spaziale, Attese from 1966 comprises a majestic progression of four assured incisions across a pristine red canvas: An archetypal exemplar of the artist’s famed Tagli series rendered in its most poweful colour. The sheer vitality of the intense scarlet pigment is immediately impactful, its saturated power amplified through contrast with the plunging black voids. Bristling with connotative energy, this canvas is charged with the red of passion and action – of warmth, danger, and violence. Its abundant richness is only tempered by the punctuating presence of the four deep slashes, each imbued with the subtlest of cursive curves and, as a group, seeming to lengthen and amplify from right to left, as if part of an immutable crescendo of beauty and brutality.
Left And Right: Lucio Fontana Photographed By Ugo Mulas In 1964. Image: © Ugo Mulas © Ugo Mulas Heirs, All Rights Reserved. Artwork: © 2020 Lucio Fontana/ Dacs
The artistic theory behind the creation of the Tagli (cuts) was professed in Fontana’s Manifiesto Bianco, published in 1946. Here Fontana proposed the birth of a new Spatialist art, which sought to articulate the fourth dimension. In this quest, Fontana proposed the artist as the source of creative energy, anticipating future events and engaging with technological advancement; asserting that the artist’s work should aspire to enlighten ordinary people to the possibilities offered by their environment and society. Ever since first puncturing a canvas in 1949, the artist had been singularly committed to the Spatialist mission to explore the conceptual depths beyond the limits of the two-dimensional picture plane.
Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale, Attese, 1965. Private Collection. Artwork: © Lucio Fontana/Siae/Dacs, London 2022
Fontana embarked on the Tagli at the end of 1958, partly in response to the developments in contemporary art in Italy during 1957-58, particularly Yves Klein’s first exhibition of monochrome paintings in Milan in 1957, Jackson Pollock’s retrospective in Rome in 1958, and the predominant rise of Art Informel. In response to the contemporary turn toward action painting at this time, Fontana’s cuts evoked this gestural performance while seeking the realisation of a more metaphysical presence. Fontana combined the highly saturated monochromatic purity of Klein’s canvases with Pollock’s violently physical action. However, whereas Pollock’s painterly dripping technique left an indexical record of his every movement, Fontana’s gesture annihilated this proclivity toward additive mark-making and replaced it with a vandalistic destructiveness. Drawing attention to the materiality of the picture-plane, Fontana’s cuts question classical interpretations of a ‘figure-ground’ relationship; rather than striving toward an illusion of perspectival depth, Fontana’s punctures create forms within the canvas that embody a real third dimension of space. Moreover, the painting’s chromatic radiance amplifies the profound darkness of the plunging black recesses that aptly signify Fontana’s quest for "the Infinite, the inconceivable chaos, the end of figuration, nothingness" (Lucio Fontana quoted in Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1999, p. 198).
Jackson Pollock, Flame, circa 1934-38, The Museum Of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Museum Of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence. Artwork: © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation Ars, Ny And Dacs, London
By the 1960s, Fontana’s practice of breaking through the canvas and into a heretofore unexplored territory beyond had gained newfound relevance alongside ground-breaking concurrent advances in space travel. The ‘Space Race’ had established the moon as the next frontier for human exploration and dominated the global political zeitgeist. As such, Fontana was at pains to emulate this scientific paradigm shift in his artistry: Just as Yuri Gagarin broke through the atmosphere to reveal the void behind it, Fontana irrevocably changed the course of art. To this end, the telleta (the strips of black gauze positioned behind each cut) are as central to the interpretation of the present work as the narrow slits themselves. They imply the blackness of space and the insurmountable nothingness of the cosmological void. Fontana was explicit with regard to his emulation of the cosmic explorations of his era, and confident in the implication that his actions had for the course of art history: “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 quoted in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006, p. 19).
Caravaggio, Saint Jerome, 1606, Museu De Montserrat, Montserrat. Image: © Scala, Florence www.scalarchives.com
Despite these intimations of infinite cosmological serenity, there is also an inherent sense of violence to the present work. The four striations that permeate its surface are unmistakably cuts wrought by a human hand; their wound-like appearance is enhanced by the ineluctable smoothness of the pulsating red pigment, saturating the canvas, and seeping from each cut. In this way, the present work almost appears as a contemporary echo of the wounds of Christ on the cross. Christian art delivered the message of salvation through sacrifice, just as in Fontana’s work it is only by enacting the violence on an unblemished surface that the intimation of a new dimension can be attained. Thus, in a manner typical of his subversive artistic voice, in Concetto spaziale, Attese, Fontana denigrated the techniques of the Christian art tradition – perspectival recession, oil paint modelling – whilst simultaneously updating and recapitulating that Christian notion of achieving transfiguration through pain and sacrifice. Concetto Spaziale, Attese is a work that distils the past, present, and future into a captivating composition of striking simplicity; a prime example of the manner in which Lucio Fontana was able to instigate a paradigm shift in post-war art, galvanising the discourse to keep up with concurrent progressions in space travel. It is works of this nature and of this exceptional quality and rarity that have installed Fontana’s oeuvre at the pinnacle of Italian post-war art.
Lot 139. Lucio Fontana (1899 - 1968), Concetto spaziale, Natura, bronze, 60.7 by 64.9 by 46.5 cm. 24 by 25½ by 18⅜ in. Executed in 1959-60, this work is unique. Lot sold: 2,092,000 GBP (Estimate: 1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP). © Christie's 2022
Property from a Private German Collection.
Note: Exquisitely moulded and shaped from terracotta into organic spheres bearing violent gouges and raw clefts, the Nature comprise forty-four individuated works created by Lucio Fontana between 1959 and 1960, from which thirty-three were cast in bronze. The present work is an outstanding and rare example in bronze from the post-war Italian master’s preeminent body of sculpture. Measuring 65 centimetres in diameter and unique in the bronze iteration, (numbered 59-60 N 38 in the artist’s catalogue raisonné), the present work is one of only twenty-four monumental Nature measuring over 65 centimetres, left in private hands. The remaining works today reside in the most prestigious museum collections around the world. Where the original terracotta iterations are housed in the National Gallery, Berlin, the corresponding bronze casts belong to the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.; the Kröller-Müller Museum, Netherlands; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Moderna Museet, Sweden; and the Museum Abteiberg, Monchengladbach.
Lucio Fontana In His Studio, Milan, 1964. Image: © Archivio Giancolombo. Artwork: © Lucio Fontana/Siae/Dacs, London 2022
Concetto spaziale, Natura is both corporeal and astral, erotic and cosmological; its raw edges and crust-like matter exude the artist’s highly physical mode of sculptural production, the rough surface of the work exuding a violent manipulation of solid and heavy clay. A deep fissure cuts the sphere’s core horizontally, almost diving the planet-like form in two. Gaping open, the present work ruptures the boundary between outside and inside, solid and void, confusing the viewer’s somatic experience of the three-dimensional form. In 1959 after an incredibly productive period between June and August that year, he wrote, “This summer, at Albisola I have worked hard. I have almost produced thirty very large terracotta spheres, with holes and large cuts. I am very pleased, I have managed to represent nothingness! This is the death of matter, pure life philosophy!” (Lucio Fontana quoted in: Exh. Cat., Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006, p. 202). The heavy spherical forms of the Nature indeed join the seminal Fine di Dio in delivering the most advanced expression of the artist’s aesthetic philosophy. As art historian Anthony White has stated: “Instead of the pregnant fullness of perfect form, the canvas [of Fine di Dio] reflects a body that appears broken and hollow… Thus the theory of nothingness, which was central to the conception of the Nature sculptures, is also at the heart of the End of God series” (Anthony White, Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch, Cambridge, 2011, p. 260).
Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale, La Fine Di Dio, 1963 Private Collection. Artwork: © Lucio Fontana/ SIAE/ DACS, London 2022
Created during a period defined by the ‘Space Race’ and executed just short of a year before the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin travelled into space for the first time in human history in 1961, Concetto spaziale, Natura potently contends with the boundless dimensions of a universe that is simultaneously billions of years old, yet newly discovered by humankind. With its spherical, planetary composition – striated and pot-holed like the surface of the moon – and its vast, gaping aperture, the sculpture evokes the mysterious and infinite dimensions of space. Describing his inspiration for the Nature, the artist explained: “I was thinking of those worlds, of the moon with these... holes, this terrible silence that causes anguish, and the astronauts in a new world. And so... in the artist's fantasy... these immense things have been there for billions of years... man arrives, in mortal silence, in this anguish, and leaves a vital sign of his arrival... they were these still forms with a sign of wanting to make inert matter live, weren't they?" (Lucio Fontana quoted in: Exh: Cat:, London, Ben Brown Fine Arts, Lucio Fontana: Paintings, Sculptures and Drawings, 2005, p. 79). In rupturing his sculpture to leave a deep, hollow chasm of vast and empty space, Fontana addresses this sense of ‘anguish’ or anxiety at treading the unknown, uncertain depths of the cosmos.
Lunar Surface, December 1968. Image: © Getty Images Stocktrek Images/Getty Images/Stocktrek Images
Throughout this highly productive period between 1959 and 1960, Fontana sought to respond aesthetically to remarkable scientific developments in cosmology and physics. The artist laid out such ideas as early as 1947 in his widely influential First Spatialist Manifesto: “We refuse to think of science and art as two distinct phenomena… Artists anticipate scientific deeds, scientific deeds always provoke artistic deeds” (Lucio Fontana, “Primo Manifesto dello Spazialismo (First Spatialist Manifesto),” 1947 in: Exh. Cat., London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 1999-2000, p. 185). Scientific advancements ignited in Fontana an ambition to create a conceptually challenging body of work imbued with the very same spirit of space exploration, a corpus that could reflect man’s position on the brink of an infinitely large universe. Expanding the representation of space within art through his radical articulation of the void, Fontana would forever alter the course of art history. The cratered topography of Concetto spaziale, Natura is imbued with a sense of polymorphism, the notion of space beyond space. The sculptural topography of the present work builds upon Fontana’s radical cuts throughout the Concetto spaziale, Attese, undoubtedly one of Fontana’s earliest and most successful bodies of work. Simultaneously orifice and wound-like, Fontana’s violent gashes and holes throughout his sculptural and painterly output disturb, disrupt, fragment and compromise the integrity of the whole, presenting viewers with a haunting exploration of the formless and the nothingness of space. Utterly singular and unlike anything before or since, the Nature confer bold corporeal form to the philosophical human condition at the dawn of a new cosmic age.
Lucio Fontana With Works From The Nature Series, Kröller Müller Museum, Otterlo, 1962-1963. Image: © AD Petersen. Artwork: © Lucio Fontana/SIAE/DACS, London 2022
Christie's. Modern & Contemporary Evening Auction, London, 2 March 2022