Lucio Fontana (1899-1968), Concetto spaziale. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd., 2011
signed, titled and dated 'Lucio Fontana "Concetto spaziale" 1952' (on the reverse), oil on card mounted on stretcher, 31½ x 31½in. (80 x 80cm.) Executed in 1952 - Estimate £150,000 - £200,000 $241,050 - $321,400)
Provenance: Michel Couturier & Cie., Paris.
Private Collection, Paris.
Ippolito Simonis, Turin.
Studio Casoli, Milan.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Literature: "Idee di Lucio Fontana", in Domus, June 1952, no. 271 (illustrated, p. 33).
S. Takiguchi, "Arte Contemporanea", in Misuzu, no. 25, Tokyo 1964 (illustrated, p. 63).
G. Ballo, Fontana : idea per un ritratto, Turin 1970, fig. 191 (illustrated, pp. 158-159).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: catalogue raisonné des peintures, sculptures et environnements spatiaux, vol. II, Brussels 1974, no. 52 B 1 (illustrated, pp. 26-27).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: catalogo generale, vol. I, Milan 1986, no. 52 B 1 (illustrated, p. 109).
Fontana, exh. cat, Milan, Fondazione Lucio Fontana, 1999 (illustrated, p. 67).
Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, exh. cat., New York, Guggenheim Museum, 2006 (illustrated, p. 198).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. I, Milan 2006, no. 52 B 1 (illustrated, p. 238).
Exhibited: Venice, XXVII Biennale di Venezia, 1954, no. 40, p. 84.
Milan, Studio Casoli, Lucio Fontana, 1986.
Notes: Concetto spaziale presents the viewer with a swirling constellation of holes on a nightlike background, revolving around a massy core of paint at the centre. Executed in 1952, Concetto spaziale is an important early example of Lucio Fontana's trailblazing Buchi or 'Holes,' so named because of the innovative punctures with which he had forced the viewer to become aware of the three-dimensionality of the picture surface. In Concetto spaziale, that three-dimensionality is made all the more apparent by the raised crowns that mark so many of these punctures, protruding from the flat surface, and also by the vortex-like eddies of thick impasto at the centre of this off-set galaxy-like composition.
The all-important three-dimensionality of Concetto spaziale came to the fore again in 1954, when it was exhibited alongside eight other Buchi in a retrospective dedicated to the artist that was held at the XXVII Venice Biennale and which consisted of twenty works from throughout his career. The emphasis on the Buchi is itself a reflection of their importance to Fontana. At the Biennale, his 'Spatial Concepts,' caused controversy because of the artist's insistence that they were sculptures, not mere pictures. In this way, he addressed the fact that pictures are not two-dimensional, throwing down a gauntlet that would be taken up over a decade later by Minimal artists such as Donald Judd. By bringing the viewer's attention to the holes in the surface of Concetto spaziale as well as to its articulated surface, Fontana was introducing a Spatial revelation to the viewers, presenting them with a work that both penetrates space when it hangs from the wall and is penetrated by space, which seeps through the portals that he has opened within its surface.
Concetto spaziale is an important historic link to the groundbreaking development of Fontana's Spatialism, which was to come to have such an incredible influence on the post-war cultural landscape, challenging the hitherto accepted boundaries of art. Concetto spaziale itself was a forum for Fontana's own experimentation with space and light, and therefore relates to his large-scale architectural installations, often entitled Ambiente spaziale, with which he transformed large spaces by creating new light effects, presenting neon strips in mid-air or piercing the walls and allowing light to flow through holes reminiscent of those in Concetto spaziale. Fontana used Concetto spaziale to emphasise the sculptural nature of his works, their three-dimensionality, when he took it and a couple of other Buchi from the same period and photographed them in various ways, taking advantage of their punctured and variegated surfaces to create images in which these pictures had been transformed according to the effects of the light. In one photograph taken in his studio by the artist Attilio Bacci, Concetto spaziale was shown on the floor, illuminated with raking light, meaning that the paint and the punctures cast long shadows, emerging from the flatness of the picture surface; Fontana himself also photographed Concetto spaziale with light coming through the holes, making it appear like a luminous grouping of stars reminiscent of the night sky, of the Cosmos that so obsessed the founder of Spatial Art.
Concetto spaziale therefore relates to the large-scale works in which Fontana was using electric lighting as an innovative medium in its own right, showing his incredible drive to push back the accepted and, to his mind, obsolete boundaries of art and embrace the modern era. It is no coincidence that in 1952, the same year that Concetto spaziale was created, Fontana created several programmes broadcast in Milan on Rai-TV in which he showed footage of the play of light on and through his Buchi, what he referred to as 'luminous moving images' (Fontana, quoted in E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. I, Milan, 2006, p. 61). This sense of movement meant that Fontana was able to present his works not only in three, but indeed in four dimensions, introducing time as another facet of his Spatial experimentation. The televised experiments coincided with the publication of the Manifesto of the Spatial Movement for Television, in which the artists linked to the group that Fontana had founded declared:
'For us television is a medium that we have been waiting for to integrate our concepts. We are pleased that our spatial event, destined to renew the field of art, is being transmitted from Italy. It is true that art is eternal, but it was always linked to matter, whereas we want to set it free so that through space it can last a millennium, even in a minute's transmission. Our artistic expressions... seek an aesthetics through which the picture is no longer a picture, the sculpture is no longer a sculpture' (Fontana et al., Manifesto of the Spatial Movement for Television, reproduced in E. Crispolti & R. Siligato (ed.), Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Milan, 1998, p. 176).
Concetto spaziale, with its perforated surface that hints at the constellations of the galaxies around us, already introduces this abandonment of the traditional materials of painting and sculpture.
Christie's. Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction. 16 February 2011. London, King Street www.christies.com