Lucio Fontana - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Monday, November 11, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Jesús Rafael Soto, gift from the artist
    Galerie Pierre, Stockholm
    Private Collection, Milan
    Christie's, London, The Italian Sale 20th Century Art, October 16, 2006, lot 236
    Private Collection
    Christie's, London, Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale, June 28, 2011, lot 46
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Stockholm, Galerie Pierre, Fontana, February – March, 1971

  • Literature

    Fontana, exh. cat., Galerie Pierre, Stockholm, 1971, no. 14 (illustrated)
    E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: catalogue raisonné des peintures, sculptures et environnements spatiaux, vol. II, Brussels 1974, no. 64 T 42, p. 152 (illustrated)
    E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: catalogo generale, vol. II, Milan 1986, no. 64 T 42, p. 523 (illustrated)
    E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. II, Milan 2006, no. 64 T 42, p. 713 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I say dimension because I cannot think what other word to use. I make a hole in the canvas in order to leave behind me the old pictorial formulae, the painting and the traditional view of art – and I escape symbolically, but also materially, from the prison of the flat surface.”

    -Lucio Fontana, 1968

    While Lucio Fontana had already written his most famous treatises on his art in 1947 with the advent of his manifestos (which would publish until 1952), he stayed true to the spirits of these writings until his death in 1968. In his Technical Manifesto of 1951, Fontana wrote, “The representation of known forms and repetitive story-telling mean nothing to the men of our century, who have been formed by this materialism. This is why abstraction, at which we have arrived gradually by way of formalization, was born. But abstraction does not meet the needs of the men of today. A change is therefore needed, a change in essence and form. We have to go beyond painting, sculpture, poetry, music. What is now wanted is an art based on the necessity of a new vision…”(from Lucio Fontana, ed. Gilbert Brownstone, Paris, 1970, p. 46) Fontana’s magnificent illusion would coalesce in the coming years in the form of his most celebrated series: the Concetto Spaziale. The present lot, Concetto Spaziale, Attesa, 1964, is a glowing representation of Fontana’s work near the end of his life, at a point when his technical perfection and confidence in his medium makes for a marvelous artistic coda.

    Fontana’s manifestos served less to outline the work of his final twenty years and more to articulate Fontana’s spiritual and scientific aims for his art. Fontana’s cultural narrative posited that the “new vision” in question was a new art form entirely, a form that would meet the artistic needs of those who made and observed it without question. Hence, he endeavored to find a middle ground between painting and sculpture, one that would lend additional dimensions to contemporary definitions of visual art. His first Concetto Spaziale of the late 1940s employed holes as their defining characteristic, rebelling against the inherited tradition that the canvas was defined as the ground on which the picture was to be presented. This radical post-modernist vision of art—to employ the medium itself as the primary vehicle for expression—was to create waves throughout the artistic community, shocking both critics and viewers alike.

    But Fontana’s project was to evolve further in its visionary quest. Beginning in the middle of the 1950s, Fontana began using either a scalpel or a Stanley knife to slice incisions into his canvases, then using black gauze as the backdrop, inviting the observer to contemplate a new dimension in a new form. Peering into the infinite yet receding cosmos of Fontana’s new creations, one comprehends a paradoxical illusion of two parts. The first is a space beyond the canvas itself. The second, however, is a sculptural finality to the form of the canvas. In creating this dichotomous relationship, Fontana was able to forge the perfect model of his Manifesto’s ideal form: that which is a truly creative new vision.

    The present lot, Concetto spaziale, Attesa, 1964, comes from a mature stage in Fontana’s prolific exploits into the mysteries of the Concetto spaziale. As he began each piece, Fontana’s nomenclature was telling in his summation of his artistic project. “Attesa” in translation, equates to either “hope” or “expectation”—adding an intimate shade to Fontana’s creative process, one in which the artist aimed to achieve a transcendent effect in his work. Upon our familiarization with the present lot, it is clear that Fontana’s hope was not in vain.

    As a product of his later career, Fontana’s piece is a marvelous triumph of symmetry, a stark representation of the artist’s mastery. Though Fontana would sometimes eschew a painted surface in favor of sculpting a blank canvas, his use of waterpaint here delivers a magnificent and resplendent surface, the picture awash in a dazzling coat of white. In addition, the intimate scale of the painting lends Fontana’s work a loving sense of innocence, as if Fontana himself was raising this “hope” from infancy. Centered around Fontana’s shaped void, the white tone of his canvas seems to shift in color to a darker shade as it nears the central vertex, the natural hue of his painting a perfect choice for lending a extra dimension to his sculptural element.

    And, of course, through the vertical central of the painting runs a terrifying incision, absolutely perfect in its execution, bordering the top and bottom portions of the painting with stunningly equal measure. Fontana’s slice is a study in clinical excellence, almost as if a surgeon himself had been trusted to cut the canvas. Consequently, the void within alludes to a variety of natural phenomena in its shape, ranging from a bloodless laceration of the skin to a wintry imprint of a blade in the snow. Fontana’s architectural structure of the incision is its most captivating visual factor: its depth is as much its defining feature as the resulting bisection of space. It is this soft, receding slope to the center of the cut that gives Fontana’s picture the great illusory element, prompting us to look further into its recess.

    And, once we do, we are rewarded with a mesmerizing variety of possibilities arising from a single slash. As we examine the recess within the canvas, Fontana prompts us to contemplate not only a third dimension (in addition to his second), but also a fourth—an existence beyond the surface of the painting. Fontana posits a world beyond our own, and offers us a window into it.

    Though his method of form is distinctly his own, Fontana’s work is not without its artistic kindred. Bleu II, 1961, by Joan Miro, employs Fontana’s linear formality in its use of a dominant vertical red slash, supplemented by a group of smaller dots that hearken back to Fontana’s earlier experiments in cutting holes in canvases. We can further explore this compositional similarity by touching upon the shared artistic visions of the two painters: while Fontana advocated new forms in an effort to contribute a sense of vision to the artistic community, Miro strived to create self-contained visual worlds in his paintings. Miro’s own fascination with whimsical fantasy is of a piece with Fontana’s eternal search for a vision of promise: each artist aimed to create a comprehensive vision of inspiration.

    As Fontana created the present lot, slicing his blade down the center with a mastery of precision, he was in the midst of the most successful year in his lifetime for the rising popularity—and rising prices—of his work. Fontana’s relentless quest to popularize his work the world over— by attending a vast number of openings and exhibitions—was a testament to his belief in his original forms, one that incorporated his faith in scientific progression and human advancement for the better of humanity. Though many would characterize the simplicity inherent in Fontana’s forms as a precursor to the Arte Povera movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, his canvased-based structures were, in fact, models for a new scientific understanding of the world: “He wanted scientists to direct part of their research towards discovering luminous and malleable substances and instruments capable of producing new sounds to facilitate the development of art: provided always that these scientists were aware of the vital necessity of space.”(G. Brownstone, “Un Evolutionnaire de l’Art”, Lucio Fontana, Paris, 1970, pps. 15-16)

    Fontana did his part to open up contemporary art to the idea of the canvas itself as a malleable substance, paving the way for the critical questioning of art’s most ingrained values. Spatialism—or his work with the Concetto Spaziale—is representative of an artist’s constructive rebellion, where he chooses to examine the medium of expression itself to a creative extent. Though he died only four years after he painted the present lot, Fontana gave rise to a new era of conceptual awareness in visual art; the Concetto Spaziale are the first in a series of manipulated canvases and commentaries regarding the radicalized presentation of visual art.

    In addition, in Concetto spaziale, Attesa, 1964, Lucio Fontana introduces the question of visual purity in a work of art. As he entered his final years, Fontana’s use of pure white on his canvases became more and more frequent, a final effort to achieve a sense of the perfectly unblemished canvas. The present lot is a forebear in this respect, setting the thematic scene for Fontana’s last years. It is a quintessential piece from the most high-minded of artists, a man who devoted his work to constant intellectual engagement.

    “For me painting is a matter of ideas. The canvas served and still serves for the documentation of an idea. The things I am doing at the moment are just variations on my two fundamental ideas: the hole and the cut.”

    -Lucio Fontana, 1967 (from an interview with Daniela Palazzoli (Bit, no.5, Milan, [Oct/Nov 1967])


Concetto spaziale, Attesa

waterpaint on canvas
25 3/4 x 21 1/4 in. (65.4 x 54 cm.)
Signed, titled and inscribed "L. Fontana "Concetto Spaziale ATTESA" para el amigo Soto ciao, oggi vado dal Dottore, a farmi visitare,'" on the reverse.

$2,000,000 - 3,000,000 

Sold for $2,345,000

Contact Specialist
Zach Miner
Head of Evening Sale
+1 212 940 1256

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York 11 November 2013 7PM