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Collections> Browse > Concetto Spaziale - Attesa (Spatial Concept - Expectation)

Collections> Browse > Concetto Spaziale - Attesa (Spatial Concept - Expectation)

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Courtesy Walker Art Center
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Concetto Spaziale - Attesa (Spatial Concept - Expectation)
Lucio Fontana
unframed 57-½ × 45 inches
tempera on canvas, lacquered wood
Not on view

Object Details

Paintings (Paintings)
Accession Number
on reverse in black ink TL “L. Fontana”; on reverse in black ink TL “Concetto Spaziale Attesa” with an arrow indicating orientation
Physical Description
a white painting with a long, narrow, vertical slash.
Credit Line
T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 1998

curriculum resource Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale–Attesa (Spatial Concept–Expectation) (1964-1965) Walker Art Center, 2002

Lucio Fontana, an Italian artist who lived and worked in Argentina, was one of the first avant-garde artists to understand art as gesture or performance. His first solo exhibition at an American museum was held at the Walker in 1966, where a critic wrote in the Minneapolis Star that “Fontana gives his works a feeling of space by breaking the surface with perforations, punctures, ‘nervous’ slits, ‘quiet and dramatic’ slashes, or ‘fluttery’ holes.” The technique, which Fontana named Spazialismo, was conceived in 1949 when he punctured a thinly painted monochromatic canvas with a knife, exploding the definition–or at least the conventional space–of art. This act challenged the entire history of Western easel painting and led him to the understanding that painting was no longer about illusion contained within the dimensions of a canvas but a complex blend of form, color, architectural space, gesture, and light.

Fontana was completely committed to abstraction, publishing in 1946 his famous “White Manifesto,” which expanded on ideas from another Italian movement, Futurism, about the role of science and technology in new art forms. In this manifesto he wrote about “the free development of color and form in real space to create an art that would transcend the area of the canvas to become an integral part of architecture.”

Text for Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale–Attesa (Spatial Concept–Expectation) (1964-1965), from the curriculum guide So, Why Is This Art?, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2002.

Copyright 2002 Walker Art Center

curatorial commentary Joan Rothfuss discusses Lucio Fontana’s , Concetto Spaziale–Attesa (Spatial Concept–Expectation) (1964-1965) Joan Rothfuss, September 1999

I’m going to start by talking about Lucio Fontana. The painting, Concetto Spaziale, that we start out the exhibition with is representative, I think, of an incredibly radical shift in the way that artists approach painting. Since the beginning of the century, artists have been trying to find a way to make paintings that did not deal with space as illusion. The whole history of painting since the beginning of history, when people started marking on things and making paintings, usually involved architecture. The paintings were attached to walls of buildings. They were drawings within churches or private homes. It wasn’t until the Renaissance, when oil paint was invented, that artists started to make paintings as objects. To be able to move the paintings from one wall to another within an architectural space was a new thing. At the time that they did this, they began to think about paintings as windows and talked about paintings as windows out into another kind of reality. So, since the middle of the fourteenth century really, artists had been dealing with painting in essentially the same way, which was as a way of looking outside of the reality that they were standing in.

What Fontana did and a lot of artists did as well elsewhere, in the United States and Japan and in other parts of Europe, was to try to find a way to challenge that, to allow people to understand that the painting was actually a wall. It was not a window. It was something that you were faced with and that didn’t allow you to look out. Artists like Picasso and the surrealists had started to break that down by changing the kind of reality that you were seeing through the so-called window. But, Fontana really did the radical thing, which was to call your attention to the surface and say, “This is actually a flat plane and that’s what you’re looking at. You’re not looking at anything that’s an illusion.” By slashing it, which was kind of a violent act to perform on the painting, he was trying to bring in the space behind the painting. He was trying to allow that space to become part of the space of the painting. So, in other words, there was no illusion anymore. It’s almost like painting as sculpture, painting as an object. It’s a very simple gesture that he’s made, but I think a very provocative one. It certainly has a lot to do with the time that he started making these, which was immediately post-war in Italy, which had been involved, of course, heavily in all of the destruction and fighting. Artists in Europe and in Japan and the United States were trying to find ways to make paintings responsibly in the wake of this incredible disaster. The ones that were made by Fontana working in Italy and Shiraga working in Japan were more violent than those that were made, let’s say, in the United States and, perhaps, there’s some contextual reason for that. Fontana’s painting as sculpture and painting as gesture, which is what he talked about in terms of the performative aspect, was something very new and something that had a lot of implications for the artists that came after him working for the next few generations here and in Europe.

I think Fontana’s influence was recognized immediately. It was very early. Fontana started doing these in the late 1940s and this was before Pollock even started doing drip paintings here. It was certainly well before Manzoni and Kline and others started working radically to change the kind of pictures that had been make. So, I think he had a lot of influence on those artists that immediately followed him and his thoughts were incorporated pretty quickly into what was going on in Europe in avant-garde painting.

Joan Rothfuss, Associate Curator of Visual Arts, Walker Art Center, commenting on Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale–Attesa (Spatial Concept–Expectation) (1964-1965), during the exhibition Art in Our Time: 1950 to the Present, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, September 1999.

Copyright 1999 Walker Art Center

curatorial commentary Richard Flood discusses Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale–Attesa (Spatial Concept–Expectation) (1964-1965) Richard Flood, September 1999

If I’m mentally going through the permanent collection and I think of artists like Manzoni and Fontana – and let me throw Polke in at the same time – they are to me particularly important insofar as at crucial moments when it looked like nothing could move the notion of painting forward, these people came along and significantly suggested that everything could change one more time. When you’re talking about painting, it’s a very problematic medium. It’s determinedly two-dimensional. You hang it on the wall. It’s very vulnerable. It doesn’t take up a lot of space. It has no real depth. Everything is an illusion about it. But, then, all of a sudden, you get to somebody like Fontana or you get to somebody like Manzoni and the equation changes. All of a sudden, there is actual literal depth to it. There is a kind of emblematic action that is other than the passive aggressive notion of painting a representational moment or enhancing a known narrative. It’s like there they are. He slashes the surface of a painting. It’s the most violent act anyone can make against a painting. It’s the classic, “Oh, there’s a mad man in the museum and he’s got a knife.” I don’t think there’s a museum that doesn’t fear that phenomena. That’s what he made his art. He somehow created this incredible tension simply by doing what everyone feared, but he did it against a virgin ground. Or the gouge … when he tears the painting up and you actually see the material interacting with the canvas and you see the struggle. This opens something up; this opens up a new potential. An artist can come along and go, “Wow! I don’t have to go out into the pasture and paint what I see before me,” or “Wow! I don’t have to hallucinate some piece of mise-en-scène and, then, take it to a canvas.” This is a total kind of interaction between the artist and the materials. The good news is it changes everything. The bad news is it leaves no room whatsoever for anybody to get in there and move ahead with its gesture. So, the same guy who is crashing open the door is also slamming it shut immediately behind you. I think in terms of a medium like painting, that’s what makes legends.

Richard Flood, Chief Curator, Walker Art Center, commenting on Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale–Attesa (Spatial Concept–Expectation) (1964-1965), during the exhibition Art in Our Time: 1950 to the Present, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, September 1999.

Copyright 1999 Walker Art Center