Lucio Fontana - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, March 6, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galleria il Cavallino, Venice
    Galleria il Mappamondo, Milan
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in the early 1990s

  • Exhibited

    Venice, Galleria del Cavallino, Fontana, 28 September - 12 October 1957 (illustrated, cover)
    Milan, Galleria del Naviglio, Lucio Fontana, 5 - 15 November 1957, n. p. (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    If spark had a name and surname, it would be Lucio Fontana - as long as ‘spark’ designates an ensemble of creativity, taste, technical virtuosity and, above all, a quintessentially free attitude to the act of creation. Fontana has extraordinary knowledge of every form of figurative expression, which he often shatters with ironic fervour. Thus, with his constant boutades, he moved more waters and originated more movements than a library of aesthetic essays and artistic manifestos. Constantly walking on the edge of taste and intellectual twists, he remained based on solid ground in terms of formal research. How many trumpets of judgement were silenced by the cheerful allegretto of his exciting fanfare? Celebrating poetic freedom, and enjoying the opportunity to always discover new and sweeter mediums to express his art, Fontana never insisted on the triumph of his best findings, nor did he turn them into academic lullabies.

    And here are these ceramics –the extreme sophistication of an opaque coat of paint laid on the purest form. What is essential is enough, there is no need for extravagant craftsmanship. The adorned yet simple gesture is carved into the terracotta and the borders of the slashes emphasise the relationship between gesture and colour with the play of light and shadow. The effect evokes an embossed craquelé, of which the subtle and vibrant flow is paused and punctuated by the cornerstones of the holes. Here, Fontana reaches the effect of the most ancient ceramics, inscribing the hieroglyphics of his fantasy on them and modulating the shades of his graceful elegance onto their surface. [Franco Russoli, ‘Fontana’, trans., Gallera del Cavallino, Venice, 28 September - 12 October 1957]

    Lucio Fontana: from Figuration to Abstraction

    Lucio Fontana commenced his sculptural practice as an apprentice in his father’s firm, where he made funerary busts out of gesso and marble. He subsequently enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, in 1928, training as a neo-Classical sculptor under professor Adolf Wildt. Departing from Wildt’s traditional approach, Fontana began looking for modern vitality in art. As he recalled in an interview in 1943: ‘I took a great lump of plaster, gave it a rough shape of a seated man and then threw tar over it. Just like that, as a violent reaction’ (Lucio Fontana, quoted in Lucio Fontana: Materia Spazio Concetto, Milan, 1993, p. 10). Alongside Giuseppe Mazzotti, a Futurist ceramicist from Albissola, Fontana began to tackle a variety of subjects spanning warriors, saints and sea creatures, in a visual syntax both figurative and abstract. The artist imparted his creations with an unbridled sense of motion and vigour, until finally taking a radical turn towards abstraction in the mid to late-1950s.

    From 1950 to 1956, Fontana actualised the burgeoning radicalism he had expressed in his Spatialist Manifesto of 1947. ‘What we want to do is to unchain art from matter, to unchain the sense of the eternal from the preoccupation with the immortal’, he wrote. ‘And we don’t care if a gesture, once performed, lives a moment or a millennium, since we are truly convinced that once performed it is eternal’ (Lucio Fontana, quoted in 'First Spatialist Manifesto', 1947, Lucio Fontana, Milan, 1998, pp. 117-118). While Fontana engaged with abstraction particularly in the early 1950s,nonetheless he continued to create gestural and figurative ceramics, sacred figures, and masks, including Corrida, 1950. In the second half of the decade, however, Fontana ceased his figurative work and the artist's Spatialist production took over the quasi-entirety of his oeuvre: tubular vases, ceramics, and terracotta plates were left gracefully bare, marked only with holes and scratches. Concetto spaziale, 1957, is an adroit representation of this artistic development.

    Situated either side of Fontana’s conceptual trajectory, the present works trace the artist’s stylistic progression over the course of the 1950s. Corrida, through the curvilinear shapes of the bull’s writhing body, unites the figurative and the fantastical, conjuring an amorphous organism sui generis. Rendered in a form that is suggestive of a sacrificial animal whilst simultaneously evoking a visceral and abstract register, Corrida displays the creative potency of Fontana’s ceramic artistry at a critical point in his career, when the crux of his practice progressed from vigorous figuration to numinous abstraction. In Corrida Fontana’s dexterous manipulation of clay, touching on the various different qualities enabled by the medium, serves as a striking reminder of his masterful ability to synthesise different formal styles.

    Concetto spaziale, 1957, is a quintessential example of Fontana’s eponymous series, that spanned both painting and ceramics. ‘I made a hole. Infinity passes through, light passes through, there's no need to paint ... everyone thought I wanted to destroy but that's not true, I created, not destroyed’, the artist observed (Lucio Fontana, quoted in Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Milan, 1986, p. 19). Portable, movable and exposable, the work’s ceramic nature heightens the capacity for varying light sources to shine through its punctured holes. Exhibited at Fontana’s show held in 1957 at Galleria del Cavallino, Venice, Concetto spaziale is an iconic example of the artist’s abstract ceramic production. It demonstrates the plates’ rare beguiling quality: projecting different shafts of light through different angles, they materialise the foundational concepts the artist had intended for them to exude better than a canvas ever could.

    Notably, the dates at which the present works were conceived mark two symbolic turning points in Fontana’s career. In 1950, the artist created his first buchi (holes), paving the way for subsequent works of seminal importance. In 1958, just one year following the execution of the present Concetto spaziale, he introduced his second iconoclastic gesture: the tagli (slashes). Reflective of Fontana’s groundbreaking contributions to postwar Italian art and post war art at large, these two ceramic objects epitomise the artist’s ability to attain the fourth dimension. ‘Man’s real conquest of space is the abandonment of earth, of the line of the horizon’, he declared, ‘And thus the fourth dimension is born; volume is now truly contained in space in all of its dimensions’ (Lucio Fontana, quoted at the IXth Milan Triennial, 1951, ‘Technical Manifesto’, Lucio Fontana, London, 1988, p. 82).

Property from a Distinguished Private Italian Collection


Concetto spaziale

signed and dated 'L. Fontana 57' lower right
painted terracotta
diameter 47 cm (18 1/2 in.)
Executed in 1957, this work is registered with the Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan under the archive number 793/8.

£100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for £93,750

Contact Specialist
Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 7 March 2019