Collections> Browse Lucio Fontana

Collections> Browse Lucio Fontana

Lucio Fontana
Holdings (6)
1 sculpture, 1 drawing, 2 paintings, 2 books

Wikipedia About Lucio Fontana

Lucio Fontana (19 February 1899 – 7 September 1968) was an Italian painter, sculptor and theorist of Argentine birth. He was mostly known as the founder of Spatialism and his ties to Arte Povera. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Lucio Fontana, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Lucio Fontana was born of Italian parents in Rosario de Santa Fe, Argentina. His father, a successful stonecutter and monument maker, took his son back to Milan when he was six years old so he would receive a proper education. That included, besides technical training and an art apprenticeship, a stint in the Italian armed forces. In 1922, he returned to Rosario to run his father’s business and to set up a studio in which he produced sculptures reminiscent of Aristide Maillol. After five years, the draw of a Europe in full artistic ferment became too much and Fontana returned to Milan, where he enrolled in Adolfo Wildt’s sculpture class at the Brera Academy.

With Fausto Melotti, Atanasio Soldati, and Luigi Veronesi, Fontana founded a Milanese chapter of “Abstraction-Création” in 1934. An interest in ceramics led him to Albisola, the country’s mecca for potters, and from there to Paris, where he found employment at the Manufactures de Sèvres. Fellow artists called him the “Futurist ceramist” as he explored the French capital and sought out Joan Miró, Tristan Tzara, and Constantin Brancusi. Having returned to Milan, Fontana accepted, just prior to the declaration of war, an invitation from the Argentinean government to compete for an official commission. Marooned in his native country by the outbreak of hostilities, he settled down to win every sculpture prize in sight until there were no more challenges left in the figurative arena.

By 1946, lionized but restless, Fontana established the freewheeling Academia d’Altamira, where he was surrounded by young artists. Here he drafted, and his students signed, the Manifesto Blanco (White Manifesto), a rallying cry for activities that anticipated Happenings, Fluxus, and political street theater by almost twenty years. It also contained a blueprint for Fontana’s 1947 Manifesto Spaziale (Spatialist Manifesto), published soon after his return to Milan. Bounced between countries, the artist remained Argentinean at heart. “A child of the pampas, I know as much about space as your hero Jackson Pollock, who grew up in Wyoming,” he told this author in later years. The Spatialist movement proper was born in 1949 with his first spatial environment, Ambiente Spaziale a Luce Nera (Spatial Environment with Black Light), at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan.

The Walker Art Center was first among American museums to acknowledge Fontana’s art world bonafides. Its 1966 exhibition Lucio Fontana: The Spatial Concept of Art featured eighty works, including an ambiente spaziale, and prompted spinoffs such as a Fontana-inspired dance piece and couture show. Twelve years passed before the Guggenheim Museum in New York organized a retrospective, wrongly credited in the press with “introducing Lucio Fontana to America.”

The artist did not attend the preview of his Minneapolis exhibition. Still reeling from having been savaged by reviewers of the Ten Paintings of Venice at the Martha Jackson Gallery in 1961, he avoided another trip by claiming that the forthcoming Venice Biennale required all his attention. Favored to win the grand prize in Venice that year, he had to content himself with the national prize for his spectacular all-white installation even as top honors went to his Argentinean epigone Julio Le Parc.

With its perforations, incisions, and lacerations (Fontana’s three “spatialist” gestures) programmatically presented, the Walker’s exhibition intentionally confined itself to the Spatialist period. Of course, it included the artist’s lush and imaginative variations on those three themes, from some of the gold and silver Venice series, the bronze and ceramic Natura (Nature), and the sheet-metal tributes to New York, to the candy-colored Fine di Dio (The End of God) ovals and the otherworldly Teatrini (Small Theater) in their lacquered frames. A less conceptual and more historic approach would have allowed for Fontana’s participation in the vanguard of prewar sculpture as well as for his prodigious output of mostly figurative, often religiously inspired, and always baroquely fashioned ceramics.

A medium-sized 1961 bronze, Concetto Spaziale “Natura” (Spatial Concept “Nature”), was acquired by the Walker from Martha Jackson in the wake of the exhibition. Begun just two years earlier, the “zolle-nature” or earth clods were modeled in clay before being cast in bronze. They resembled the excrescences of telluric upheavals and the Siberian meteorites, photographs of which I noticed on Fontana’s studio bulletin board. The work’s single most distinguishing feature is a wound-like cleft, indicative of penetration and birth. Reviewing the Minneapolis exhibition in the New York Times of January 7, 1966, Hilton Kramer praised the Concetto Spaziale “Natura” for their “uncommon power” but added, in the same sentence, that they “represented nothing in the way of sculptural innovation.”

Thirty years hence, the museum added a 1958 Concetto Spaziale on paper to its collection. One can count about a hundred holes in seven horizontally aligned rows, perforated from the back and surrounded by a pencil-drawn oval. The buchi (holes), as Fontana referred to them, entered his idiom in 1949, constituting the first of his Spatialist interventions. Transgressive but liberating all the same, these perforations demonstrate the artist’s frustration with illusionism and with the picture plane as an inviolable barrier. Passing beyond it, he allowed the drama of relief and the play of light and shadow subtly to become a part of his composition. A logical outgrowth of these drawings was illuminated ceilings, using drilled holes and indirect light, which Fontana created in collaboration with architects and which were featured with great effect in the Milan Triennales of the 1950s.

The freehand oval, for Fontana, was a cosmic shape that he adopted as a signature device around 1951 to 1952. It relates to, and may in fact have had its origin in, the splotches and spirals of Enrico Baj’s contemporaneous “nuclear” paintings. The Spatialist and the Nuclear movements were two rival, but somewhat interrelated, formal options in the postwar Milanese art world. The chameleonic Fontana was known for taking cues, on occasion, from younger artists whose work he admired, encouraged, and acquired for his own collection.

In 1998, two representative paintings rounded out the Walker’s holdings of Fontana’s works. They were a purchase and a gift, respectively, from the Fondazione Lucio Fontana in Milan. Concetto Spaziale—Attesa (Spatial Concept—Expectation) (1964–1965) is a fine example of that single vertical slash (taglio) so dramatically recorded by Ugo Mulas in a series of photographs of Fontana working in his Corso Monforte studio. Attesa, to the artist, meant “wait … and see”; it promised another reality behind the visual one; the teasing removal of the veil has been replaced by the impetuous wielding of the knife. Its physicality notwithstanding, the gesture is metaphysical without the usual religious or mystical connotations. The canvas is chastely covered with a water-based white pigment, and the slash is closed with black gauze on the reverse so it retains a crisp shape.

The second painting takes on extra meaning for being one of the very last canvases the artist finished before succumbing to a heart attack in the summer of 1968. It features a central laceration, graphically accentuated by a double outline and an encapsuling oval, both scratched into the oil-paint surface with the end of a small brush. Another white monochrome, this painting typifies that quest for purity (or was it neutrality?) that seemed to obsess painters and sculptors in the late 1950s and early 1960s, from Fontana, Piero Manzoni, and the Zero Group on one side of the Atlantic to Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Ryman, and Sol LeWitt on the other.

    Marck, Jan van der. “Lucio Fontana.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

    © 2005 Walker Art Center


    artist’s quote artist’s quote Fontana, Lucio, 1946

    We are living in the mechanical age. Painted canvas and standing plaster figures no longer have any reason to exist. What is needed is a change in both essence and form. What is needed is the supercession of painting, sculpture, poetry, and music. It is necessary to have an art that is in greater harmony with the needs of the new spirit. Lucio Fontana, 1946