Executed in 1965, Concetto spaziale, Attesa is one of the largest of all of Lucio Fontana's Tagli, or 'Cuts,' the works that have become almost the posters for the Spatialism that he pioneered. It was only a few years earlier that Fontana had found a Gordian Knot solution that allowed him to present his notions of a Spatial art from the architectural scale of his Ambientazioni ('Environments') to the more manageable scale of the traditional canvas by piercing the picture surface. In Concetto spaziale, Attesa, this process is almost reversed as this work, monumental and monolithic, takes the Tagli to an almost architectural scale. It is perhaps a tribute to the rarity of this superlative work that it bears a dedication from Fontana to Teresita, his wife, on the reverse. Indeed, throughout the years this work has often been referred to and known as 'Teresita.'
The sheer scale of Concetto spaziale, Attesa, combined with its sheer simplicity, allow Fontana to present the viewer with something elemental. There are no distractions. Instead, Fontana has presented us with something that is emphatic, lending it an extra factuality. In its simplicity, the slash itself, over a metre long, conveys a sense of the elemental reminiscent in part of the 'zips' in the paintings of Barnett Newman. However, where Newman was conveying a sense of the fundamental, of the verticality of the human presence, in short of some of the materiality of life, Fontana has done precisely the opposite. At the centre of the red canvas in Concetto spaziale, Attesa is a gap that he himself has created. It is this void, this space, that is the subject of the painting. Indeed, it is the slash in the canvas that is the true work of art. Just as his friend Yves Klein had declared that his paintings were the ashes of his art, so too the paint and canvas in Fontana's Attese are almost incidental. It is the space that is irreducible, undeniable, inerasable. The canvas, over millennia to come, will doubtless go the way of all matter and turn to dust and to nothing. However, there will still be a space marked out by Fontana and his blade that can never be eradicated. The simple act of slashing the canvas cannot be undone. 'Art is eternal, but it cannot be immortal,' the First Spatial Manifesto had two decades earlier declared. 'We plan to separate art from matter, to separate the sense of the eternal from the concern with the immortal. And it doesn't matter to us if a gesture, once accomplished, lives for a second or a millennium, for we are convinced that, having accomplished it, it is eternal' (signed by Fontana, G. Kaisserlian, B. Joppolo, M. Milani, reproduced in E. Crispolti & R. Siligato (ed.), Lucio Fontana, exh.cat., 1998, pp. 117-18).
In Concetto spaziale, Attesa, then, it is the act that is the spatial concept, and it is the space. These two intangible elements are Fontana's medium and support, that ballet-like slashing gesture the true, new equivalent of brush hitting canvas. And it is a tribute to Fontana's Spatial aesthetic that this involves the mere surgical movement, no mess, instead a clean, almost scientific act. The cleanliness of the act itself brings about a sense of almost religious purity, as Fontana himself explained: 'With the slash I invented a formula that I don't think I can perfect. I managed with this formula to give the spectator an impression of spatial calm, of cosmic rigour, of serenity in infinity' (Fontana, quoted in E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, Vol. I, Milan, 2006, p. 105).
Fontana, the founder of Spatial Art, sought an artistic vision that wedded the world of science, of the Space Age, to the sense of immense, almost religious awe that the new age had prompted in him. Fontana's architectural explorations of his spatial concepts, his environments, created churches dedicated to Space and science, to light and movement and gestures and the infinite and the fleeting all at once. They were existential temples pointing towards a new enlightenment; and it is to their scale that Concetto spaziale, Attesa lays its claim, towering almost two metres tall. It is in the slash itself, over a metre long, that the spatial concept truly exists: where Man had by this time managed to leave the atmosphere of Earth, penetrating the cosmos, so in Concetto spaziale, Attesa space has invaded the Earth, has invaded the world of matter. The void has come to us. There is a deliberate visual contrast between the material-- the red canvas-- and the Immaterial, the sliver of the cosmos that Fontana has captured in our realm. Fontana is deliberately playing with scale, introducing a shard of infinity that is designed to prompt us into a contemplation of the infinite scale to which now, breaking away from Earth's gravity and into the vastness of space, Man was now exposed. 'Now in space, there is no longer any measurement', he explained.
'Now you see infinity... in the Milky Way, now there are billions and billions... The sense of measurement and of time no longer exists. Before, it could be like that... But today it is certain, because man speaks of billions of years to reach... and so, here is the void, man is reduced to nothing... When man realises... that he is nothing, nothing, that he is pure spirit he will no longer have materialistic ambitions... man will become like God, he will become spirit. This is the end of the world and the liberation of matter, of man... man will become a simple being like a flower, a plant and will only live through his intelligence, through the beauty of nature and he will purify himself of blood, because he constantly lives with blood... And my art too is all based on this purity, on this philosophy of nothing, which is not a destructive nothing, but a creative nothing, do you understand? And the slash, and the holes, the first holes, were not the destruction of painting... it was a dimension beyond the painting, the freedom to conceive art through any means, through any form. Art is not painting and sculpture alone: art is a creation of man, who can transform it into anything... as it may also end, because such exceptional events will happen... Art will seem to be too elementary: it will be superseded by man's intelligence and other activities will replace art' (Fontana, quoted in ibid., p. 81).
In Concetto spaziale, Attesa, Fontana was deliberately exploring a means of approaching that art of pure spirit, echoing the almost spiritual transformation that he perceived as the next level of Man's evolution and awareness, within the traditional bounds of the picture plane. Fontana's cut in this canvas illustrates the obsolete nature of traditional artforms as mankind approaches a new age of science, reason and awareness of the immensity of Space; at the same time, he has managed to create an unsullied zone of pure conceptualism, of pure spirit, and it is in this void that we can glimpse fleetingly the limitless wonder of the heavens and gain some awareness of our microscopic part within the giant turning wheel of the galaxy.
Concetto spaziale, Attesa
Waterpaint on canvas and lacquered wood
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Signed, titled and dedicated 'l. fontana Concetto Spaziale ATTESA Questo quadro è dedicato a Teresita' (on the reverse)
Lucio Fontana , 1960s, Paintings, Italy, Post War
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Lucio Fontana, the Spatial Concept of Art, January-February 1966, no. 36. This exhibition later travelled to Austin, University of Texas Art Museum, February-March 1966.
Taipei, Fine Arts Museum, Post-War Italian Art, September-November 1998.
London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, October 1999-January 2000, no. 73 (illustrated in colour, also referred to as 'The Teresita', unpaged)
Zurich, de Pury & Luxembourg, Lucio Fontana, October-December 2002, no. 11.
Burgdorf, Museum Franz Gertsch, Lucio Fontana, April-June 2004, no. 87 (illustrated in colour, p. 135).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
77 5/8 x 56½in. (197 x 143.5cm.)
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogue raisonné des peintures, sculptures et environnements spatiaux, vol. II, Brussels 1974, no. 65 T 51 (illustrated, p. 162).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo generale, vol. II, Milan 1986, no. 65 T 51 (illustrated, p. 567).
'Ein Maler als sanfter Bilderstürmer' in Handesblatt, October 1999 (illustrated).
'Curating Fontana' in Modern Painters, Autumn 1999 (illustrated, p. 114).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: Catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. II, Milan 2006, no. 65 T 51 (illustrated, p. 756).
Marlborough Galleria d'Arte, Rome (R1234).
Private Collection, Switzerland (acquired circa 1969).
Thence by descent to the present owner.