"I am seeking to represent the void. Humanity, accepting the idea of Infinity, has already accepted the idea of Nothingness. And today Nothingness is a mathematical formula" (L. Fontana in interview with Nerio Minuzzo l'Europeo, no. 949, Milan, 1963).
Following Einstein's equation of energy with matter, modern science has mathematically proven the complete mutability and interdependence of almost all former absolutes or 'certainties' about the universe. Waves are now known to become particles and vice versa, matter is energy and energy can transmute into matter, while space and time can also, it seems, be 'sculpted' into different forms by the speed and mass of the things around them. In recent years modern cosmology has come to outline a vision of a completely chaotic and mysterious universe that continues to perplex and surprise even the wildest imagination. The cosmos is now thought to be an infinite and volatile realm made up of exploding stars and unstable galaxies punctured and held together by invisible and inter-dimensional vortexes or wormholes known as 'black holes'. These mysterious voids in the space-time continuum are believed to be possible gateways to alternative realities and parallel worlds. Of the known universe, 96 of it is now known to be made up of an entirely unknown and invisible entity defined intriguingly but vaguely as 'dark energy' and/or 'dark matter'.
Lucio Fontana's Fine di Dio are a series of thirty-eight oval-shaped oil paintings made between March 1963 and February 1964 for three different exhibitions of his work held in Zurich, Milan and Paris. The supreme encapsulation of the 'Spatialist' art that he pioneered in the 1950s and '60s, these works now stand as mystical icons that since their creation have proved themselves to be strangely prophetic of much about the way that modern physicists now view the cosmos.
Strange, mysterious and imposing, these punctured monochrome canvases in the shape of an egg are more than mere paintings. They are 'Spatial concepts' that invoke the fundamental mystery of the cosmos by being holistic images, which, through the archetypal, regenerative and even mystical form of the egg, aim to express nothing less than the alpha and the omega of all existence - the beginning of the universe and its end. Independent and self-contained entities, many resemble galaxies, paradoxically both open and enclosed to the space that they inhabit. Mysterious and yet also somehow strangely familiar, these works embrace a profound sense of simultaneous unity and diversity and in so doing also invoke an awareness of the perpetual transmutation of matter into space, the relationship between time, gesture and eternity and even the existential fear and loneliness of mankind lost in the vast unknowable and infinite void of Space.
Concetto Spaziale La Fine di Dio (FD 23) (Spatial Concept The End of God (FD 23)) is an appropriately dark and mysterious presence seemingly shimmering with the light of a million stars that itself appears to be simultaneously materialising and dissolving within an holistic oval outline. Of all Fontana's thirty-eight works in this series, this Fine di Dio is the one that today most closely resembles our currently expanded and multidimensional picture of the universe. As a work of art rather than a speculation of science however, it is also one that exceeds and transcends the traditional boundaries of its own discipline being neither a two-dimensional painting nor a three-dimensional sculpture. Rather, it is a new inter-dimensional object - what Fontana described as a 'spatial concept'- a work of art dedicated to invoking and articulating the mystical dimension that the vast void of Space appears to present to Man.
For Fontana, the dawn of Space age in the late 1950s and early '60s marked the beginning of an entirely new era in the evolution of man. A new age in which, the artist, like the scientist, would now have to contend with and adapt to a vision of the world constituted solely by time, matter, energy and above all Space. In practical terms, his radical solution to the problems demanded by this new age were the hole and the cut (the buchi and the tagli) - two dynamic gestural and penetrative acts made on the canvas that in perforating it, infused its flat two-dimensional surface with real space, opening it up to the void and instantaneously establishing it as part of the Einsteinian dimension of space/time.
Fontana's incisions into the flat plane whereon an illusional representation of life had previously been rendered throughout the entire history of art effectively destroyed the canvas as a bearer of illustrative meaning. Acting as a vital and invigorating spatial marks or signs on the material surface of the canvas plane, Fontana's punctured holes and gestural cuts also fixed each work and the energised transformative act of their creation to a specific point and place in time. In so doing, they added a temporal dimension, one that, paradoxically, infused the work with a sense of the eternal. For, in the very moment of Fontana's destructive act of piercing the canvas, an energised new space or void within that material was created - a space that, despite the passage of time and any material decay of the canvas around it, would, Fontana believed, always exist. "Art is eternal as gesture, but not as matter", he asserted. Like the spirit of man, as opposed to his body, which will perish, the work of art, as a material object, is temporal and mortal, but the spirit and energy of a gestural or creative act, resounds, in an infinite and timeless universe, forever.
Indeed, ultimately, Fontana believed that the infinite dimension of space would render all art objects extinct, and this belief also extended to his notion of God. Seeing the potential revelations of the space age in fundamentally mystic terms, Fontana recognised man's move into space as not just a moment of scientific awakening but also as one of spiritual liberation. The infinity of space would force man to recognise that he is "nothing...that he is pure spirit", Fontana observed. When this revelation was accepted, man would, he insisted, "no longer have materialistic ambitions... (he) will become like God, he will become spirit. This is the end of the world and the liberation of matter, of man." The new Spatialist age would inevitably bring about not merely the end of art, but of also of man's concept of God. "The religions, too, must adapt themselves to the state of science" Fontana recognised. It was this portentous, radical and mystical aspect of his Spatialist research that reached its finest and deepest expression in the 38 egg-shaped canvases to which he gave the prophetic title, 'la fine di Dio' - the End of God".
The egg, of course, is a powerful mystical image. A symbol of birth and, in Christian iconography, an image of the Resurrection, this round, holistic and organic form, also represents unity, harmony and a sense of a fundamental order, the cyclical passing of time, (life, death and resurrection), and the ancient law of eternal recurrence. It is the perfect image with which to represent the unknowable, unfathomable unity of the cosmos. Executed to the same dimensions as Fontana's own height, so that the viewer could gain an intimate and personal sense of revelation from these works, Fontana's first fine di Dio were executed in 1963 and marked the culmination of a series of spatial experiments in oil paint, known as the Olii. Painted in predominantly green and pink, two colours that reflected the landscape and the flesh of man respectively, i.e. the physical and material nature of the world from which man, as spirit, was to be set free by space, these early versions, concentrated on the spatial breakout from the material world. They consisted largely of flat planes of monochrome canvas punctured relatively sparsely with only a few large hand-made holes that Fontana had clawed through the canvas.
Concetto spaziale La Fine di Dio (FD 4) of 1963 belongs amongst the very last Fine di Dio that Fontana made in preparation for the exhibition at the Iris Clert Gallery in Paris in February 1964 entitled Les Oeufs célestes (The Astral Eggs). As its title suggests, the Fine di Dio made for this exhibition aimed to express a far stronger sense of the cosmic mystery of space than the earlier ovals which tended to concentrate more on the physical drama of the puncturing of the canvas and the spatial penetration of its material surface. As in FD 23 the number of cuts and holes in the canvases produced for the Iris Clert show was far greater than in earlier works, with often, as here, the myriad of incisions made in such as way that they resemble a galaxy of stars. Indeed, so enamoured of this later more astral look to these works was Fontana, that he even returned to several of his earlier Fine di Dio adding further punctures to them and in some cases even resurfacing them with new colours and adding glitter to further the stellar effect of their surfaces.
With its dense but heavily perforated monochrome black surface thickly infused with star-like glitter Concetto spaziale La Fine di Dio (FD 23) is a work that brings together all the qualities of the various types of astral egg into one dark and seemingly all-encompassing spatial vision. Contrasting its shimmering graphite surface and galaxy of small puncture marks with eight large central holes or voids that bear the physical traces of Fontana's hands where he has punched and clawed at the surface of the canvas, this painting attempts to express a sense of the full transmutative chaos and flux of the cosmos, its constant flow of becoming and dissolving. In this way it asserts itself as a kind of space-age version of Malevich's 'Black Square', a monolithic icon of inter-dimensional travel and the perpetual change and flow of matter into energy, body into spirit, material substance into void.
Fontana's bringing together of all these apparent opposites within one united symbol of harmony, birth and regeneration in his Fine di Dio, is essentially an hermetic act that reflects the fundamental belief of alchemists and other hermetic philosophers that the universe was itself an holistic and symmetrical entity: 'as above so below'. More than in other works, it is in these last Fine di Dio, that this universal concept of persistent transmutation and change is especially indicated. The dramatic, stark and repetitive contrast between the thick, oily or glitter-infused surfaces of this work and the empty, dark and impenetrable holes of space within it invoke as much a sense of the wounding or screams of existential and physical pain that Fontana had expressed in the earlier Olii as they do the transmutation of matter into the nothingness of space. In works such as FD 23 the repetitive violence and overt physicality of Fontana's attacks on the canvas paradoxically also adds to the cosmic splendour of the paintings as a whole. The large hand-shaped punch-holes at the centre of this canvas seem to testify as much to the joy of liberation in the release of man's spirit from matter as they do to the physical nature of the martyrdom of his body in man's spiritual struggle for freedom. Crater-like these large punctured holes echo the simultaneous sense of both wounding and liberation that Fontana had attempted to express in the crater-like voids of his 'Nature' sculptures, the Natura of which he once said "I was thinking of those worlds, of the moon with these...holes, this terrible silence that causes us anguish, and the astronauts in a new world. And so ... in the artist's fantasy... these immense things have been there for billions of years ... man arrives, in mortal silence, in this anguish, and leaves a vital sign of his arrival" (Interview with Carla Lonzi, in Autoritratto, Bari 1969, p. 389).
Perforated and infused at every level with light and space, FD 23 is a dark shimmering and strongly material cosmic egg that, in this way, simultaneously stands as both an imposing physical presence and as a fragile, light and transient entity - an image that seems to hover between the material and the immaterial. In its simultaneous symbolism of the penetration of matter by space and the absorption of this space into the material FD 23, like all of Fontana's 'astral eggs' stands as powerful and reassuringly unified symbol of the constantly changing and ongoing evolutionary process of the entire universe. This feature of these works is reinforced not just by their oval form but also by the elegant way in which Fontana has often traced within them, one single fine line of circumference that, like the mystic snake around the Orphic World Egg, encloses their galaxy of perforations into a contained unity. It is in this respect that these last Fine di Dio, 'Les Oeufs célestes', ultimately assert themselves as unforgettable icons of a cosmic consciousness and as portraits of the Spatialist mind. Merging notions of the body as matter and the mind as spirit, they elegantly blend the worlds of science and art into a new archetype, one that continues to resonate amidst even the latest discoveries of astral physics. Intended as perhaps the very last material works of art to ever be made by man, these deceptively simple works continue to fascinate as stylish material gestures expressing the mystery and mysticism of man's existential confrontation with the void. The last marker stones of the materialist world of man before a new Spatialist age of the spirit, these permeated ovals are ultimately, Fontana would have insisted, mere signposts on the road to a new and greater age of the spirit among the stars.
"Let's not be romantic ... In 500 years time people will not talk of art, they will talk of their problems and art will be like going to see a curiosity - like the two rocks put together by the first caveman. What were they up to? Why did they cover walls with pictures? Today man is on earth and these are all things that man has done while on earth, but do you think man will have time to produce art while travelling through the universe? He will travel through space and discover marvellous things, things so beautiful that things here - like art, will seem worthless. Today's young people too are still tied to the earth. Man must free himself completely from the earth, only then will the direction that he will take in the future become clear. I believe in man's intelligence - it is the only thing in which I believe, more so than in God, for me God is man's intelligence - I am convinced that the man of the future will have a completely new world" (L. Fontana, "Last Interview with Tommaso Trini," July 19, 1968, in Lucio Fontana, exh. cat. London, 1988, p. 36).
Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio
Oil and glitter on canvas
Signed 'l. Fontana' (on the reverse); numbered and titled 'N 5 "LA FINE DI DIO"' (on the stretcher)
Lucio Fontana , 1960s, Paintings, oil, Italy, Post War
Paris, Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, Lucio Fontana, June-September 1970, no. 67 (illustrated, unpaged).
New York, Gallery Pierre Cardin, 1950-1980-European Trends in Modern Art-One Hundred Paintings, October-November 1980. This exhibition later travelled to Brussels, Espace Pierre Cardin.
Paris, Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Passions Privées, December 1995-March 1996, no. 10 (illustrated, p. 458).
Paris, Musée national d'Art moderne, Centre George Pompidou, L'informe, mode d'emploi, May-August 1996 (illustrated in colour, p. 107).
London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, October 1999-January 2000, no. 98 (illustrated in colour, p. 168).
Saint-Paul, Fondation Maeght, Le noir est une couleur, June-November 2006 (illustrated, p. 136).
Paris, Musée national d'Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Les traces du sacré, May-August 2008 (illustrated in colour, p. 71).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
70 x 48¼in. (177.6 x 122.5cm.)
A. Crespo, "El pensiamento y la obra de Lucio Fontana", in Forma Nueva/el Inmueble, no. 14, Madrid-Barcelona, March 1967 (illustrated, p. 55).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: catalogue raisonné des peintures, sculptures et environnements spatiaux, vol. II, Brussels 1974, no. 63 FD 23 (illustrated, p. 137).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: catalogo generale, vol. II, Milan 1986, no. 63 FD 23 (illustrated, p. 469).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. II, Milan 2006, no. 63 FD 23 (illustrated, p. 660).
Galerie Iris Clert, Paris.
Collection René de Montaigu, Paris.
Acquired from the above by Philippe and Denyse Durand-Ruel in 1970 and thence by descent to the present owner.