Coursing through the grand Italian tradition of art, is a definitive and regenerative exploration of space. Born in the first half of the fifteenth century, the artists of the Italian Renaissance first introduced dimension into painting through linear perspective, which was further enhanced by the contoured mystical voids that developed through the Italian Baroque into the early twentieth century, when again, the Italians pioneered a style based on modern perceptions of space, time, and movement in the guise of Futurism. Yet, it was not until the 1950s that the stage was ripe for an artist to physically break beyond the picture plane. Everywhere in Italy style and culture were thriving--Italian automobiles, film producers and fashion designers dictated what much of the modern world drove, what they wore, and how they looked. A certain visual formalism emerged presenting a new idea of 'international chic' which became increasingly synonymous with the lifestyle desired by style-conscious consumers in metropolitan centers all over the world. Between 1955 and 1965, Italy created a highly persuasive neo-Modern aesthetic of consumption. And while this aesthetic poured through metropolitan cities, a vast interest in Space exploration and technological advancements ushered in new way of thinking. The time was right for Lucio Fontana to push beyond the materiality of the painted canvas-to discover space and transcend the material world. Adopting his own chic aesthetic--both in his personal style and in his Concetti spaziali--the often bright, glitzy surface of his magnum opus, La fine di Dio, has been characterized as the zeitgeist of his time. "The texture of these works is that of La Dolce Vita: flashyand brilliant," Sidney Simon has stated (S. Simon quoted in A. White, Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch, Cambridge, 2011, p. 262). While further addressing this notion Lawrence Alloway has argued that in Fontana's work "the chic is itself made lyrical and problematic" (L. Alloway, quoted in ibid., p. 264).
The perfect summation of the artistic ideologies that defined the career of Lucio Fontana, La fine di Dio--The End of God--is a select series egg-shaped oil paintings executed between March 1963 and February 1964 on the occasion of three distinguished exhibitions of the artist's work held in Zurich, Milan, and Paris. Deeply mystifying, infinitely complex, and profoundly universal, these extraordinarily arresting ovoid canvases emerge as the zenith of Fontana's Concetti spaziali, or Spatial Concepts--evoking the primary mystery of the cosmos by being holistic images, which, through the archetypal, regenerative, and mystical shape of the egg, aim to express the beginning and ending of all existence. The inspiration for considerable art historical scholarship and variously represented in over one hundred exhibitions since their conception, as few as six equivalent works from this illustrious series are today housed in some of the worlds most venerated collections from the Centre Pompidou in Paris, to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Mardrid, the Dallas Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Contemporary in Tokyo. Mysterious and somehow strangely familiar, Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio (FD 24) is exceptional with its sumptuously lathered base of pink fleshy oil paint, coated in a celestial layer of brilliant copper lustrini-seeming to at once materialize and dissolve within its own holistic oval outline-this work stands out as the exemplary incarnation of Fontana's quest to free the spirit from earthbound matter.
Not only emerging as the ultimate encapsulation of the Spatialist aesthetic pioneered by Fontana, La fine di Dio are also mystical icons that since their creation have proven themselves strangely prophetic to the way that modern physicists now view the cosmos. Lending support to the claim made in the artist's First Spatialist Manifesto of 1947 that "artists anticipate scientific deeds," the first photographs of the far side of the lunar surface depicting its mass of craters were sent back by Ranger 7 in July 1964-nearly twelve months after Fontana made his first work in the series (L. Fontana, quoted in S. Whitfield, Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, p. 46). Echoing these images, the violence of Fontana's holes--buchi--now became muted against the impact of countless blows contained within an image of eerie stillness, covered with tiny particles of glitter, abrasive and sharp like lunar dust. Contemporaneous with man's first explorations into Space, La fine di Dio captures within its extraordinary topography a revolutionary and unique perspective of human experience. It is with that, that this masterwork should justly be sited in the highest echelon of both the modern Italian master's exceptional output, but also of the entire canon of twentieth century Abstract art, by means of those Spatial artists--Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Yves Klein, and Piero Manzoni--who sought to reinvigorate the age worn flatness of the picture plane.
With its other-worldly copper glint sprinkled atop Fontana's principal pink hue, Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio is at once a cosmic and primal topography of unending craters and volcanic riffs-a glittering earthen stratum incubating the soft fleshy magma from which even the most primordial origins of life began. Perhaps the most lyrical arrangement of buchi executed in this defining series, FD24 is a cosmic splendor--an abstract depiction of galaxies, constellations, and elliptical orbits enlivened and invigorated with a subtle, yet alluring iridescent brilliance. It is here amongst this complication of hues, where the muted pink carnal pigment is vitalized with the radiance of Fontana's lustrini, that the mysticism of the artist's spiritual concept of the transmutation of the body into soul or flesh into spirit prospers. The dramatic, harsh, and rhythmic contrast between the thick oily and glitter-infused surfaces of the work against the empty, dark, and impenetrable holes of the space within invoke the same existential and physical wounding pain that Fontana had earlier expressed in his Olii as they do the metamorphosis of matter into the oblivion of space.
Anticipating his large egg-shaped canvas, Fontana began a small series of pen and ink drawings with the inscription 'la finedio' in 1962. Yet, the small sketches of the seven ovals possess subtle differences. While none of the sketches are precisely or singularly egg-shaped, it is interesting to note that in three of the drawings a haunting facial arrangement of eyes, nose and mouth materialize as skeletal visages. Nonetheless, in a letter dated January 17th, 1963, Fontana--understanding the great significance of his new work from its infancy--wrote to Enrico Crispolti, "I am working on a series of paintingswhich I would like to call 'lafinedidio.' If you happen to be in Milan, come and see me, I'd like to discuss them with you, and if we agree, you could write a critical essay on them" (L. Fontana, quoted in P. Campiglio, 'I Only Believe in Art,' Lucio Fontana: Venice New York, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2006, p. 209). In the subsequent La fine di Dio executed later in 1963 and in early 1964, the size of Fontana's incisions would consistently decrease while their number and distribution rapidly increased, as though the artist himself was attempting to mimic the proliferation and rapid expanse of the cosmos by means of his own production.
In June 1963 at the Galleria dell'Ariete in Milan, Fontana held his first exhibition dedicated solely to these new works under the collective title 'Le Ova.' Within the pages of the exhibition catalogue, Fontana painted a Zen-like oval consisting of a single black line atop a pink background. Paired with the scholarly essay 'L'ova -tela, (The Egg Canvas)' by Gillo Dorfles, La fine di Dio emerged as an eternal and regenerative icon of the beginning and ending of all existence. As one of the single most powerful symbols in art and myth, the egg exists as the distinctive universal visual referent of birth and creation. A potent symbol in the iconographical lexicon of the world's greatest ancient civilizations the primordial and cosmic eggs occupy central roles in the creation stories of the Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, the Greek Orphic tradition, Hinduism, and of course still inhabit a deeply symbolic meaning in both Judaism and Christianity today. The Western mythical belief that eggs contained the four elements--earth, fire, water, and air--united together, resulting in the lone source of perfect nature, the egg symbolized the hermetically sealed alchemist's 'retort,' within which they attempted to mimic creation. It also signified the prima material (first matter) that was the ubiquitous starting substance for the alchemical magnum opus, the Lapis Philosophorum, the Philosopher's Stone, the elixir of life with the capabilities of turning lead to gold.
That Fontana's cuts have so readily been seen as a parallel between the artist's spatial research and Christ's stigmata wounds is even more applicable here given the symbolic nature of the egg as it relates to the Resurrection and the prophetic title of the artist's tour de force. Alluding to a series of deep, almost violent, wound-like gashes he incised in a series of monochromes around the same time, Fontana illustrates the vision of an astronaut, who not only emerges as a modern hero, but a space-age martyr, a contemporary Christ-like figure, released from the perils of the material world while bound to his own instruments of torture and publicly displayed in the newspapers and on the television screen. "They represent the pain of man in space," he explained. "The pain of the astronaut, squashed, compressed, with instruments sticking out of his skin, is different from ourshe who flies in space is a new type of man, with new sensations, not least painful ones" (L. Fontana quoted in S. Whitfield, Lucio Fontana, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1999, p. 44). And while the egg, turned red with the blood of Christ upon his resurrection, too is a Christian symbol of rebirth, it is the prophetic title--La Fine di Dio, the end of God--that hints at the possibility that underlying all of Fontana's art is the immense desire to locate an image universal enough in its appeal to usurp centuries of Christian iconography.
"When I first presented La fine di Dio," Fontana explained to Carla Lonzi, "they said to me: 'You propose the end of the Gods''no'(I replied)... 'the Gods are one thing, this is the end of Gods on earth, and by this I mean: the end of these Gods, but the continuation of one God' what does it mean? Nothing! Who knows how God appears?' And so, I made these perforations, holes...and I said, 'I believe in God.' And they came and said: 'What do these mean?' '(They are)... an act of faith'...(I answered)... 'the only gesture that I can profess to is this: to believe in God.' I said to them; 'tell me: how would you describe God? If you are true Catholics, real believers...you will not know this either' Therefore I created a gesture, I believe in God, I created an act of faith...Therefore: God is Nothing, but he is Everything, no? This is a fact, and in part a moral, advice" (L. Fontana, 'Interview with Carla Lonzi,' op. cit., p. 33). Therefore, for Fontana the proposal of the end of God anticipated the beginning of a new age wherein saw not the end of Divinity, but the end of the Christian God, and all other finite, man-made, definable concepts of God.
Emanating with the same Baroque flamboyancy that Fontana achieved through the use of metallic paints and colored glass stones or pietre in his Venezie cycle, Fontana's lustrini encrusted fine di Dios conjured a similar ethereal sense of the mystery and wonder of space. Representing a Spatialist desire to activate the surface of the canvas, piercing its two-dimensional plane with the unprecedented interplay of light and shadow, this inextricable intertwining of radiance and splendor was of great importance to Fontana. Presenting a luminous icon for a new age, where science was to replaced religion, Fontana has both deliberately selected and surpassed the visual language of ancient religious art in order to express both the continuation of the spirit and the critical break from Earth-bound religions. Echoing the scintillating brilliance of Byzantine icons and mosaics, which have aptly been described by Rico Frances as, "the most flexible of images," with the ability to "entirely change their appearance and meaning in response to ambient light conditions," resulting in, "the most subtle art and the most theologically complex pictures because they do not simply represent theology, but enact it," Fontana reveals his ability to plunder the past for inspiration while creating a modern gleaming art form for the new technological era (R. Frances quoted in B. Pentchiva, The Sensual Icon: Space, Ritual, and Senses in Byzantium, Pennsylvania, 2010, n.p.).
Keeping with his radically modern sensibility, FD 24 stands as a confident and reassuringly cohesive emblem of the continually shifting evolutionary process of the entire cosmos. This attribution is reinforced not just by ovoid canvas but also the elegant manner in which Fontana has often traced over the impenetrable stretcher bar, one single fine line of circumference that--like the mystic snake around the Orphic World Egg--encloses their galaxy of perforations into one self-contained body. 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, the fine di Dio 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, haunting though they are, are ultimately, Fontana would have insisted, mere signposts on the road to a new and greater age of the spirit among the stars.
In the wake of his most significant and impactful dictate--La Fine di Dio--Fontana prophesized that "Art is going to be a completely different thing. Not an object, nor a formArt is going to become infinite, immensity, immaterial, philosophy. Enough of the bourgeois function of art. Open the doors." (L. Fontana, quoted in B. Hess op. Cit., p. 88). Indisputably, his La fine di Dio series--emerging as one of the most profoundly philosophical and universally reaching manifestos in Post-War art-opened the doors for a new global art form, with new contemporary implications, and radical technological innovations. With this statement Fontana did justice to the spirit of the late 1960s, an art historical moment characterized by protest movements against the Vietnam War, racial discrimination, and social injustices, where artistic considerations revolved around the dematerialization of the art object in Conceptual Art--but even more so it paved the way for radical advancements by future generations.
Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio
Oil and glitter on canvas
Signed and titled 'l. Fontana "Concetto spaziale" "LA FINE Di Dio"' (on the reverse)
Lucio Fontana , 20th Century, Paintings, Italy, Post War
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lucio Fontana, September-November 1972, no. 66 (illustrated in color).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
70 x 48½ in. (178 x 123 cm.)
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: catalogue raisonné des peintures, sculptures et environnements spatiaux, vol. II, Brussels, 1974, pp. 136-137, no. 63 FD 24 (illustrated).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: catalogo generale, vol. II, Milan, 1986, p. 469, no. 63 FD 24 (illustrated).
E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana: catalogo ragionato di sculture, dipinti, ambientazioni, vol. II, Milan, 2006, pp. CCXXIII and 660, no. 63 FD 24 (illustrated in color).
Philippe Dotrémont, Brussels
Renée Lachowsky, Brussels
Private collection, Europe
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 6 February 2003, lot 4
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner