Concetto spaziale, Attesa

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  • Provenance

    Galleria Vismara, Milan
    Private Collection, Milan
    Private Collection, Milan

  • Literature

    Enrico Crispolti, ed., Fontana, Catalogo generale, vol. II, Milan, 1986, no. 64 T 136, p. 541 (illustrated)
    Enrico Crispolti, ed., Lucio Fontana, Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. II, Milan, 2006, no. 64 T 136, p. 727 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Concetto spaziale, Attese and Concetto spaziale, Attesa, executed in 1963 and 1964 respectively, are each emblematic expressions of Fontana’s preoccupation with universal and spiritual concepts. While their primary colours are indexical of natural earthly elements such as light and water, the cuts crossing their surfaces indicate a symbolic transcendence of space and time.

    The magnetic blue in Concetto spaziale, Attesa provides a cool contrast to the following work’s brightness and luminosity; it invokes the endless depth of the sky as viewed from the Earth. The burst of yellow radiating from Concetto spaziale, Attese bears evident references to the the sun’s roaring rays for instance, yet also invokes a kind of spiritual luminescence superseding the quiet stillness of the monochrome. The five jet-black slashes piercing through the painting’s centre further reify a sense of boundless urgency; as a group, the cuts form a mystical presence interrupting the vibrant force of the yellow pigment. This uncanny conjunction of bright heliacal colour with pitch-dark carvings evokes the mystifying ambivalence of the Solar Eclipse: the fissures on the canvas indeed recall the moon’s passage over the sun, temporarily depriving the Earth of its light. The year of the work’s conception furthermore falls within a decade of major galactic breakthroughs: the first human voyage into space in 1961, and the moon landing eight years later, achieved shortly after Fontana’s death.

    Pure colour found in natural light figured among some of Fontana’s dearest delights; following his return to Italy in 1948, the artist requested that his brother take ‘thousands’ of photos of the Argentinian sky to remind him of the way aerial heights could merge with earthly visions. The present painting’s deep blue surface cut by a single thick slash captures the sky’s equivocal tones as its light progresses from solar to lunar.

    Fontana was moreover likely to have been guided by the colour blue’s rich historic significance and canonical evolution when producing Concetto spaziale, Attesa. The rich ultramarine tone, traditionally composed of pigments made from semiprecious – and exorbitantly expensive – lapis lazulis, was indeed heavily used during the Renaissance, as well as the 17th and 18th centuries. In those times, the metamorphic rocks were reserved for high quality commissions, synonymous with wealth and divinity. By 1963, a synthetic equivalent of the colour had been discovered and became reproducible using simple household paint –that which Fontana utilised to achieve his Tagli.

    The contrast between Fontana’s fascination with the natural world and the uniquely ‘manmade’ quality of his oeuvres can be considered the first in a series of distinct binaries dominating the artist’s practice. Sarah Whitfield wrote, ‘If Fontana thinks in terms of the monumental, he also thinks in polarities. The vastness of the universe is echoes in the microcosm of the hole; the mysteries of geological time are balanced by the still greater mysteries of outer space; and when he speaks about the duration of art he weighs a minute against a millennium’ (Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 2000, p. 16).

    This dynamic of balanced contrasts is not only exemplified in the artist’s processes of production; it furthermore exists in small details and tweaks surrounding his finished works. The pure serenity of Concetto spaziale, Attese’s façade, for instance, is at odds with the nonsensical inscriptions marked at the back of the canvas, reading ‘I like Luisella!’ and ‘Today I am tired’. These human exclamations provide a grounding normality to the paintings’ abstract rectos, moreover extending a bridge between the mundane and the spiritual, the earthly and the otherworldly.

    Lucio Fontana’s Tagli – slashed canvases – revolutionised not just the Italian painter’s artistic career in the late 1950s, as they marked the peak and pinnacle of his conceptual journey; they also manifested an important turn in twentieth century art historical discourse, as subversive works combatting long-standing principles of pictorial flatness. An inherently iconoclastic gesture, the slashing of canvases indeed signalled a clear desire to break with representational norms. Created between 1959 and Fontana’s death in 1968, the Tagli paintings all underwent a meticulous method of deconstruction. The canvases were first soaked in the artist’s chosen monochromatic pigment, only to be immediately sliced in one clear motion with a Stanley knife. Manipulating his canvases through the addition of colour and the simultaneous disruption of fabric, Fontana bent traditional tenets of painting and objecthood, in some ways merging both, and exploring, by the same token, the very notions of space and materiality.

    This innovative method, aptly aligned with the artist’s Spatialist principles, strove to liberate the canvas from its one-dimensional plane. Fontana formalised his radical conceptual ideals by publishing a statement in 1946 entitled 'Manifesto Blanco'; in this paper, he advocated new, synthetic forms of art focusing on the transcendence of movement in time and space. ‘We don’t care if a gesture, once performed, is eternal’, Fontana declared. (Lucio Fontana, ‘The First Spatialist Manifesto’, 1947). The motivation was thus to distantiate normative spatiotemporal concepts from his art, in order to embrace amorphous and indeterminate spatial and temporal dimensions.

    Although these ideals were mainly developed during Fontana’s time in Argentina, the artist furthermore drew from his Italian heritage to perfect the conceptualisation of Spatialist precepts. Upon returning to Italy in 1948, Fontana looked specifically at the country’s pre-war Futurist movement, which similarly focused its artistic efforts on pictorial dynamism and the exploration of tension in space. At the time, artists such as Giacomo Balla aimed to free the medium of painting from its static nature through a vivid representation of movement. Balla’s Mercury Passing Before the Sun, 1914, for instance, examines the futurist notion of ‘celestial dynamism’: the exploration of space beyond the margins of the Earth, reaching spiritual heights. This concept became all the more relevant in the early 1960s when Fontana began working on Concetto spaziale, Attese, and the ‘space race’ between the Soviet Union and America dominated popular culture. ‘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).

14

Concetto spaziale, Attesa

signed, titled and inscribed 'l.Fontana "Concetto spaziale ATTESA" oggi sono proprio stanco' on the reverse
waterpaint on canvas
46 x 38 cm (18 1/8 x 14 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1964.

Estimate
£350,000 - 450,000 

sold for £441,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 5 October 2018