Osvaldo Borsani and Lucio Fontana - Important Design London Wednesday, March 20, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Ciprandi family, Milan

  • Literature

    Enrico Crispolti, Fontana: Catalogo Generale, vol. II, Milan, 1986, illustrated p. 714

  • Catalogue Essay

    Impermanent and Permanent: The Collaboration of Lucio Fontana and Osvaldo Borsani

    The present wardrobe designed by the architect Osvaldo Borsani features painted panels by the artist Lucio Fontana, with whom he developed a close collaboration and friendship. It appears simultaneously as being impermanent and permanent, reflecting a shared desire to address conventional relationships between the object and its surrounding space. The work belongs to a series of furniture designed by Borsani and embellished by Fontana, always enlivening an exceptionally simple design with a dynamic effect in order to create interiors that were both functional and artistic. Borsani and Fontana shared an enduring interest in the new and a proclivity for experimentation in both their individual and collaborative work. Having embraced new ideological and technological advances, over the course of his career, which spanned most of the twentieth century, Borsani played an instrumental role in the formation of Italian modernist design, whilst remaining dedicated to the country’s tradition of craftsmanship and quality of materials. This enduring commitment paired with his pursuit and understanding of design as addressing more than the functional underscored Borsani’s collaborative approach to his work. Fontana’s own spatial research and exploration of dimensionality provided an intersection for artistic exchange between the architect and artist, which expanded the expressive possibilities of both their practices.

    Borsani had first met Fontana whilst studying at the Accademia di Brera in Milan, along with artists such as Arnaldo Pomodoro and Fausto Melotti, the next generation of Italy’s avant-garde, with whom the architect would collaborate with throughout his career. Borsani received his early training under his father Gaetano Borsani, whose workshop in Varedo produced Italian Deco style furniture and was highly regarded for its craftsmanship - an influence that would remain central to Borsani’s own production. During the 1930s, Gaetano had begun working with contemporary artists to create furniture with unique decoration, offering his clients additional possibilities for the customisation of their commissions. Sharing his father’s interest in art and recognising the creative and experimental potential of this collaborative approach, Borsani developed close relationships with many contemporary artists, establishing a dialogue within his practice that extended beyond the bounds of architecture and design. This interdisciplinary approach to design flourished in the context of post-war Italy and the resulting economic upturn, which created a momentum and openness for an exchange of ideas and research across cultural fields.

    Whilst Borsani and Fontana’s early collaborative work, comprising highly expressive and cohesive interior schemes, illustrates the latter’s interest in the Baroque, their designs later became more abstracted, revealing Fontana’s research into Spatialism. Fontana published his first manifesto on Spatialism in 1947 - the same year he settled permanently in Milan - in which he called for a synthesis in art of colour, sound, movement and time. In his Technical Manifesto given at the 1st International Congress of Proportion at the IXth Trienniale, Milan, 1947, the artist advocated for the need for a new form of art that moved beyond the representation of known forms and repetitive narratives, in order to reflect the ever-changing contemporary conditions of civilisation, namely, scientific discoveries made possible through technical advances, such as ‘the conquest of matter and space’ and the resulting ‘substantial transformation in the way of thinking’. Following in the text, Fontana explained, ‘a form of art is now demanded which is based on the necessity of this new vision. The baroque has guided us in this direction, in all its as yet unsurpassed grandeur, where the plastic form is inseparable from the notion of time, the images appear to abandon the plane and continue into space the movements they suggest’. In reference to the origins of the universe, Fontana stated that ‘movement is an essential condition of matter’ and thus ‘existence, nature, matter are one perfect unity and they develop in time and space’. (Lucio Fontana ‘Technical Manifesto given at the 1st International Congress of Proportion at the IXth Triennale, Milan, 1947', Translated by Charles Damiano, Ark, Winter 1959, pp. 5-6). With Spatialism, Fontana sought to embrace science and technology through the adoption of new media, including neon lighting and television, and examine the relationship between the art object and the surrounding ‘real’ space.

    By 1949, Fontana had begun using the term Concetto Spaziale (Spatial Concepts) to describe his work which he considered neither painting or sculpture. Beginning the same year, in a series entitled I Buchi (Holes), Fontana created constellations of holes made in the surface of his canvases that were intended not only as graphic representation but as ‘true openings leading to further space’. In 1952, Fontana introduced fragments of coloured glass to the perforated surface of his oil painted canvases featuring spiralling compositions of holes, producing the series Le Pietre (Stones), which further suggested a spatial dimension in his work. During this period, Fontana also created ‘spatial environments’, presenting his iconic Spatial Light – Structure in Neon for the 9th Milan Triennial in 1951. Through this work, which comprised a rhythmic and intersecting 100-metre-long loop of neon tubing suspended across the ceiling of the grand staircase Palazzo dell’Arte, Fontana sought a convergence of movement and colour with the surrounding architectural space.

    The present wardrobe, designed between 1952-53, is an early and fine example of the final method in which Borsani and Fontana collaborated. In these works, comprising designs for storage furniture and a series of sides tables, Fontana experimented with pouring paint onto glass sheets to create indefinite compositions, which were set into external structures designed by Borsani. The decorative surfaces created by Fontana convey a sense of infinity, evoking the cosmos, which recall his spatial concept works and relate to his research during this period in which he created environments with a ‘strong spatial sense’. The atmospheric quality and irregular application of paint across the four door panels of the present wardrobe creates an impression of organic movement, drawing the viewer’s gaze across the opalescent surface, which would have countered the sense of verticalness that often characterised Borsani’s interiors. This effect may have been enhanced by the play of light within the original interior scheme as evidenced by the spatial compositions and use of reflective surfaces in other projects designed by the architect documented from this period. Whilst the solid wood frame grounds the wardrobe within the surrounding space, the surface decoration of the doors, underscored by their inherent function, simultaneously activated the object and dissolved its structural mass. This visual effect is underscored by Borsani’s incorporation of two unexpected coat closets at either side of the wardrobe. Through its design and use, the wardrobe seemed to exist in both illusionary and actual time and space, involving the participation of the viewer, and thus realising the desire to bring art into one’s everyday environment.

    Borsani also worked with Fontana using this mode to produce painted panels for furniture models that subsequently become part of Tecno’s production, the design and manufacturing firm the architect founded with his brother Fulgenzio in 1953. Reflecting the entrepreneurial spirit and artisanal experience of its founders, and the optimism and collaborative approach of post-war Milan, Tecno combined rigor of form and quality of craftsmanship to embrace new markets, which inspired further innovation and versatility in Borsani’s designs. Thus, the present wardrobe anticipated the unity of artisan knowledge and research-based, technological approach Borsani successfully established through Tecno. In his work the architect achieved a natural beauty through the man-made, exploring the tensions of traditional and technological production methods, and their conceptual and expressive possibilities. Integral to Borsani’s work was his ability to bridge such ideas by establishing connections, evidenced by his dynamic exchange with Fontana, and their exploration of the continuity of material and space in their work.



Reverse-painted glass, walnut, brass.
184.7 x 254.3 x 63 cm (72 3/4 x 100 1/8 x 24 3/4 in.)
Manufactured by Arredamenti Borsani, Varedo, Italy. Glass panels painted by Lucio Fontana, Milan, Italy. Lower corner of each glass panel acid-etched SECURIT. Archivio Lucio Fontana number 1438/1.

£140,000 - 220,000 

Sold for £275,000

Contact Specialist
Madalena Horta E Costa
Head of Sale
+44 20 7318 4019

Important Design

London Auction 21 March 2019