"How was I to paint this terrible New York? I asked myself? Then all of a sudden I had an intuition: I took some sheets of metal and set to work."
The artist in: Paolo Campiglio, Ed., Lucio Fontana. Lettere 1919-1968, Milan 1999, cited in Exhibition Catalogue, Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006, pp. 37 and 45
Resplendent in the ever-changing reflections of their faceted copper surfaces, these two masterworks by Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale, New York 26 and Concetto Spaziale, not only sculpt light itself but also lure us through their powerful lacerations into the limitless Spatialist depths beyond the picture plane. Pioneering a unique form of hanging sculpture, these works typify Fontana's irrefutable status as a genius of European Abstract Art. This reputation is founded not only on his groundbreaking invention and development of Spatialism, but also a tirelessly innovative use of unprecedented materials. Rooted in his training as a sculptor, Fontana's artistic dialect invariably implicates three-dimensions. By the early 1960s he had incorporated his diverse lacerations and punctures into polygonal and oval canvases; invented new forms of paint; extensively incorporated coloured glass, stones and glitter; experimented with neon tubes; and wrestled with vast volumes of terracotta and bronze. However, with the Metalli works Fontana again reinvented his media, creating breathtaking effects with sheets of metals – aluminium, brass, copper – in search of new artistic possibilities. The two present copper works are exemplary of the Metalli series, with their respective compositions of a single taglio and geometric buchi perfectly executed. Each sized approximately two by one metres; these masterworks represent a format that fixated Fontana, with four similarly sized Metalli now residing in international museum collections.
The Metalli produced between 1961 and 1968 were initially inspired by Fontana's trip to New York from Italy in November 1961. Fontana had been invited to exhibit paintings from his Olii cycle dedicated to Venice at the gallery of Martha Jackson, whom he had previously met through the Director of Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art, Philip Johnson. Of course, it is important to remember that at that time, the Chrysler, Empire State and GE Buildings were barely thirty years old, and Mies Van Der Rohe's extraordinary Seagram Building had been completed in only 1958. The magnificent architecture of New York and the extraordinary light-reflecting sky-scrapers had an overwhelming and inspirational impact on Fontana. After visiting the Seagram Building the artist wrote: "I went to the top floor of the most famous of the skyscrapers...the one made of bronze and gilded glass... It seemed to contain the sun..." (the artist in: Exhibition Catalogue, Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York, 2006, p. 42). Indeed, Luca Massimo Barbero has observed how the island of Manhattan "may paradoxically be compared to Venice's magnificence of the past, but New York was vital, teeming with energy, life, the future" (Ibid).
Concetto Spaziale, New York, executed in 1962 belongs to the first group of Metalli, titled New York, which together with the Venice series is the only group of works by the artist which have a figurative subtitle, although Fontana's intentions were certainly never descriptive or illustrative. In 1962 Fontana returned from New York determined to find a pictorial translation for the inspirational emotions he felt generated by the city, which would subsequently become the New York series. Beyond brilliant architectural feats, sky-scrapers also emblematised a future way of life, implementing technological advances to create a more efficient mode of living and working. While in New York, Fontana had attempted to reproduce the city in the work New York, 1961, an oil and collage work on board, but the medium was not sufficiently dynamic or exciting. Fontana had experimented in the Venice series with metallic colours, whose reflective nature fascinated him, but the oil paint maintained a smooth opacity which failed to convey "a city made of glass colossi on which the sun beats down causing torrents of light" (the artist in: Grazia Livi, Vanita, p. 53).
Back in his studio in Milan, Fontana realized that he would have to enlist unprecedented media that referenced directly the shiny structures of New York's buildings. His choice of metallic sheets came quite spontaneously as the only material able to render the magnificent aura of skyscrapers. After experimentation with aluminium and brass, copper became the principal metal employed in the New York series on account of its comparable malleability, lustrous colour and capacity to reflect light and forms into magical fragmentation. Fontana particularly appreciated its strength and resilience despite the creation of multiple facets and fissures necessary to achieve reflections and shadows throughout the sheet. Indeed, for the Metalli series, Fontana conceived light as a fundamental part of the artwork, creating surfaces which recall the ephemeral patterns of reflections left by the sun on the glass windows of Manhattan skyscrapers. He observed how "no other material so successfully captures the sense of this Metropolis made all of glass, of windowpanes, orgies of light and the dazzle of metal" (the artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Venice, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Op Cit, p. 45).
Forged in the early 1960s at the height of his extraordinarily creative career, these two Metalli are absolutely paradigmatic of one of Fontana's most iconic series and the sum of decades of courageous experimentation and invention. Monumental vertical rectangles assaulted and incised with gestural graffiti strokes, Fontana's tributes to New York are certainly not literal or representative. At the root of the artist's enterprise lie the holes and penetrations into a conceptual and infinite space. Fontana's undertaking was to demonstrate the prevalence and universality of Spatialism, and that everything from the historic Baroque grandeur of Venice to the cutting-edge Modernism of New York was subordinate to the Infinite. Revolutionary and groundbreaking when they were conceived and executed, today these museum-quality works remain remarkable, exciting and unique as the instantly recognizable legacy of Lucio Fontana.
Laceration and graffiti on copper
Moscow, Zentrales Künstlerhaus, Sammlung Lenz Schönberg. Eine europäische Bewegung in der bildenden Kunst von 1958 bis heute, 1989
Zagreb, Museum für zeitgenössische Kunst, ZERO. Die europäische Vision - 1958 bis heute. Sammlung Lenz Schönberg, 2004
Düsseldorf, Stiftung museum kunst palast; Saint-Etienne, Musée d'Art Moderne, ZERO: Internationale Künstler-Avantgarde der 50er/60er Jahre, 2006-07, p. 315, illustrated
198 by 98cm. 78 by 38 1/2 in.
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. II, Brussels 1974, p. 124, no. 62 ME 28, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Generale, Vol. II, Milan 1986, p. 415, no. 62 ME 28, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Ragionato, Vol. II, Milan 2006, p. 601, no. 62 ME 28, illustrated; p. CCXIV illustrated in colour
Anna and Gerhard Lenz with Ulrike Bleicker-Honisch, Epoche Zero. Sammlung Lenz Schönberg. Leben in Kunst, Vol. I, Ostfildern 2009, p. 116, no. FO-12, illustrated in colour
Galleria dell'Ariete, Milan
Betty Barman Collection, Brussels
Gallery Guy Pieters, Knokke-Zoute
Galerie Ronny Van de Velde, Antwerp
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1987