Lucio Fontana - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, June 26, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Paolo Marinotti, Switzerland (acquired directly from the artist circa 1960)
    Thence by descent to the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Turin, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Lucio Fontana, 5 February - 28 March 1970, no. 206, fig. 196, p. 63 (illustrated, erroneously dated 1960 - 1961)
    Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Lucio Fontana, 10 June 1970 - 6 September 1970, no. 55 (illustrated, erroneously dated 1960 - 1961)
    Milan, Palazzo Reale, Lucio Fontana, 19 April - 21 June 1972, fig. 146, p. 307 (illustrated, p. 194, erroneously dated 1960 - 1961)
    Mantova, Casa del Mantegna, Lucio Fontana. Teatrini, 19 July – 28 September 1997 (illustrated, p. 67, dated 1959)

  • Literature

    Francesco De Bartolomeis, Segno Antidisegno di Lucio Fontana, Turin, 1967, no. 167, n.p. (illustrated)
    Guido Ballo, Fontana: idea per un ritratto, Turin, 1970, fig. 253, pp. 212-213 & 258 (illustrated, erroneously dated 1960 - 1961)
    Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogue Raisonné des Peintures, Scultures et Environnements Spatiaux, vol. I and II, Brussels, 1974, no. 59-60 N 11, p. 69, pp. 104-105 (illustrated, p. 105)
    Enrico Crispolti, Fontana, Catalogo generale, vol. I, Milan, 1986, no. 59-60 N 11, p. 353 (incorrectly catalogued as one of the 2 casts numbered and stamped 1/2 and 2/2)
    Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. I, Milan, 2006, no. 59-60 N 11, p. 532 (incorrectly catalogued as one of the 2 casts numbered and stamped 1/2 and 2/2)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Concetto spaziale, Natura is an early and rare life time cast of one of Lucio Fontana’s so-called ‘balls’, dating from 1959-60. The Nature were initially created in clay in Albisola, where Fontana spent time each year, and which had a thriving ceramics industry. In addition to the present signed and lifetime bronze cast, this model was also subsequently cast in bronze in a further edition of two, stamped with the initials and numbered 1/2 and 2/2, one of which was acquired by Nelson Rockefeller and is now part of Kykuit, the residence which he bequeathed on his death to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

    The present cast was acquired directly from the artist by Paolo Marinotti, a textiles magnate and philanthropist. It was he who converted the Palazzo Grassi in Venice into an exhibition venue, a status it still enjoys to this day. The present work was lent from Marinotti’s collection to several exhibitions in Paris, Turin and Milan in the years shortly after Fontana’s death in 1968. These helped to consolidate the reputation and legacy of the artist. Concetto spaziale, Natura and its sister-sculptures form a small yet highly significant series within Fontana’s work, created in a brief window, adding to their rarity. This is all the more true of the casts created during Fontana’s life, and under his guidance, rather than the posthumous casts which were also made in subsequent years. Of the large life-time casts such as Concetto spaziale, Natura, approximately two thirds are in public collections and institutions, including Tate, London, the Moderna Museet, Stockholm and the Fondation Beyeler, Riehen.

    The Natura sculptures revealed Fontana’s heightened awareness of the past, the present and the future. The return to the raw materials of sculpture, embodied in the clay mass in which he gouged the gaping hole so visible in Concetto spaziale, Natura, marked a recognition of his own artistic beginnings, as a sculptor as well as the son and grandson of sculptors. At the same time, the creative gesture he has enacted places this work squarely within the realms of the Spatial Art he had pioneered over the previous two decades. Fontana was not only making a space within the fabric of the clay in Concetto spaziale, Natura, he was also emphasising its own mass and volume by tunnelling into it. In this, Fontana can be seen to be shifting beyond the legacy of the great Italian sculptor, Medardo Rosso, whose works often appear to reveal form coalescing within a turbulent mass of matter. In his Natura, Fontana was moving even further—he was pushing past the material itself, and instead exploring space.

    Coming only shortly before the series of ovoid paintings known as the Fine di Dio, there is already the sense of an egg’s potentiality enshrined within the ruptured sphere of Concetto spaziale, Natura. These invoke birth and new life. Even the orifice in the surface, which can be seen as a gaping mouth, has a sexual dimension suited to this reproductive theme. Writing to the artist Jef Verheyen in 1961, Fontana said of the Natura: ‘I will show a group of sculptures… they are a group of balls in terra-cotta, with cuts and holes, I love them very much, they are nothingness or the beginning of everything’ (Lucio Fontana, quoted in Anthony White, Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch, Cambridge, London, 2011, p. 253).

    In many ways, it was the ramifications of the first mark, the wedge gouged out of the surface of Concetto spaziale, Natura, that was crucial. Fontana was sculpting a zone within the sphere that emphasised both the mass of the sculpture, but also the volume of space surrounding, and invading, it. Fontana had been influenced by images of craters on the moon and other planets, those celestial bodies that, in the dawn of the age of Space travel, now seemed tantalisingly within reach. This was the era when themes formerly teased in fantascienza, in magazines like Urania and movies like Destination Moon, were teetering towards reality, and travel in the Cosmos seemed tantalisingly within reach. Discussing the Natura, he would tell Carla Lonzi in 1967:

    ‘I was thinking of those worlds, of the moon with these… holes, this terrible silence that causes us 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… were these not still forms with a sign of wanting to make inert matter live?’ (Lucio Fontana, quoted in Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. I, Milan, 2015, p. 73).

    Concetto spaziale, Natura was created at a fascinating juncture in the development of sculpture. It was only a decade and a half since the end of the Second World War, and artists like Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore and Pablo Picasso were still prominent and dominant. There was a strong figurative sculptural tradition still at play, as well as a growing number of abstract idioms. Looking at Fontana’s work, he appears to have shared with Giacometti an interest in cutting away superfluous subject matter and material in order to represent an intense kernel of reality; both the epigraphic simplicity and agitated surface of Concetto spaziale, Natura echo this. Fontana’s work also recalls the Art Informel forays into sculpture created a few years earlier by Jean Dubuffet.

    Regardless of the anthropomorphic potential for readings of the cavity in Concetto spaziale, Natura, Fontana has clearly eschewed figuration. Indeed, he has almost renounced the material of the sculpture itself. Fontana described the Natura as, ‘this form of nothing, broken, given life by a blow, but it was truly the desire to construct a volume from nothing, with a form, with a hole’ (Lucio Fontana, quoted in Anthony White, Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch, Cambridge, London, 2011, p. 254). The hole created here speaks of an artist fascinated by the gesture, by his own movements, themselves irreducible and inerasable. This sculpture is the evidence of a happening as much as a work in its own right.

    Fontana—who had known modern sculptors such as Constantin Brancusi and Ossip Zadkine— turned sixty in 1959, yet more than ever appeared more in step with the developments of a slew of younger artists, not least because of the conceptual dimension of his work. One can see parallels between the space-infused ball of Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, Natura and the sponges made by his friend, Yves Klein, infused with the Immaterial. Fontana’s sculptural approach to the paintings that he cut and slashed even made him a forerunner of Minimal Art. His own collection reflected his wide range of interests, featuring works by artists including Klein, Alberto Burri and Piero Manzoni, with whom he acknowledged parallels, but also Luciano Fabro, Giulio Paolini, Pino Pascali and Paolo Scheggi, as well as the Americans Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg.

    Oldenburg may have come onto Fontana’s radar the year after Concetto spaziale, Natura was completed: in 1961, Fontana travelled to New York for an exhibition of his celebrated Venezia series at the Martha Jackson Gallery. Earlier that year, Oldenburg had featured in its group show, Environments, Situations, Spaces, as well as in the previous year’s New Media—New Forms in Painting and Sculpture. There is an intriguing similarity, both superficial and conceptual, between Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, Natura and Oldenburg’s Street Head I, now owned by the Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien of 1959. That disc-like work hangs like a pancake-style depiction of a planet’s surface, hence one of its subtitles—Gong. The features within its surface are muted to the point of obscurity, so that from a distance it might resemble a Natura, hanging in space. But crucially, this work forms part of Oldenburg’s Ray-Gun series, a group of objects that investigated the very roots of creation through a visual vocabulary that was nonetheless popular. The explosion of the ray-gun, the Science Fiction weapon of the Buck Rogers generation, is akin to that creative moment, a transformative blast—and also to Fontana’s crater in the surface of Concetto spaziale, Natura.


Concetto spaziale, Natura

signed 'L Fontana' on the underside
65 x 71 x 72 cm (25 5/8 x 27 7/8 x 28 3/8 in.)
Executed in 1959-1960 and cast during the artist's lifetime.

£700,000 - 1,000,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £1,629,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2018