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.