Lucio Fontana's breathtaking painting Concetto spaziale, Ritratto di Carlo Cardazzo belongs to the very highest tier of works in the acclaimed Pietre series, which the artist created from 1951 to 1958. While other examples from this cycle are now housed in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome and the van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, this painting is one of only seven Pietre works of at least this scale that remain in private collections, according to Enrico Crispolti's recent catalogue raisonné. A key work of the Sammlung Lenz Schönberg for the past forty years, its iconic colour and form advertised the legendary Sammlung Lenz Schönberg exhibition at the Zentrales Künstlerhaus in Moscow in 1989. Exceptional for its association with Fontana's friend and gallerist Carlo Cardazzo, it is the only Pietre painting that has such a designated subtitle in addition to the ubiquitous Concetto spaziale. Immediately impressive is the stunning freshness and utter vitality of the intense red pigment, its brightness amplified through contrast with the sweeping black impasto and the beautifully composed pietre and buchi. Loaded with connotative association, Fontana's primary hue here is the red of passion and action, of warmth, danger and violence. This jewelled work is a truly sublime exhibition of Fontana's Spatialism, and is of major importance as a cornerstone of one of the most groundbreaking artistic philosophies of the Twentieth Century.
Since first puncturing his canvas in 1949, Fontana had been singularly committed to the Spatialist mission to explore the conceptual depths beyond the limits of the two dimensional picture plane. During the mid 1950s he was working in at least five artistic modes, including the Pietre, Buchi, the Barocchi and the Gessi, and the present work, executed in 1956, represents the climax of this tremendously active period. By adding broken pieces of solid glass to the paint surface Fontana introduced sculptural projections into the space in front of the canvas. These irregularly scattered glass stones act as counterparts to the recessions of the geometrically organised buchi: the voids of the holes are contrasted with the boldly protruding swathes of impasto and facetted stones, creating a landscape of diametrically opposed forces. This balance between recession and protrusion is highly conceptual, as Crispolti has described: "The 'holes', in fact, represent a spatial 'other side' with respect to the surface of the canvas, while the material concretions and the 'stones' on the surface represent 'this side', creating a different spatial allusion, but also iconographic suggestions of a prevalently cosmic nature" (Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Ragionato, Vol. I, Milan 2006, p. 31).
From the expanse of red-painted canvas weave, to the thick, grainy layers of lathered black pigment, to the smooth and sharp-edged fragments of glass, the present work constantly reminds us that until his late 40s Fontana had been exclusively a sculptor and possessed an instinctive grasp of three-dimensions. The strong sense of movement orchestrated by the impasto and the stones is held in equilibrium by the underlying grid-like matrix of holes, and this dynamic relationship also reveals the importance of both the Baroque and Futurism to Fontana's Spatialism. Fontana's use of stones is reminiscent of ancient mosaics, which he had already investigated with sculptures of the early 1940s, as well as echoing the famous use of sequins by the Futurist Gino Severini. Furthermore, this work significantly advances the artist's own Barocchi series that had explored thick crusty surfaces and vibrant colour.
Fontana's declared subject is Carlo Cardazzo (1908-1963), a Venetian who was an avid art patron, publisher, collector and dealer. He opened the Galleria del Cavallino in Venice in 1942, the Galleria del Naviglio in the centre of Milan in 1946, and the Galleria Selecta in Rome in 1955, and between these three galleries more than one thousand exhibitions took place before his death in 1963. Cardazzo was a consummate networker and collaborator: in addition to a wide array of established Europeans from Jean Dubuffet and Fernand Léger to Georges Mathieu and Serge Poliakoff, he eventually met and exhibited the most important American Abstract Expressionists, established relations with other gallerists like Ileana Sonnabend and Leo Castelli, and subsequently exported some of the artists he represented across the Atlantic. When Fontana returned from Argentina to Italy in 1947 he arrived to find his studio and its contents in Milan had been destroyed by the War's bombardments. However, having just established the Naviglio, Cardazzo immediately became the artist's first dealer and the two struck up a close relationship that fuelled both of their careers. In February 1949 Fontana conceived his revolutionary Ambiente spaziale a luce near in the Galleria del Naviglio, for which sculptural forms covered in phosphorescent paint were suspended in a black room and illuminated by ultraviolet light. In April 1950 Cadazzo was one of the signatories to the third Spatialist Manifesto, Proposta di un regolamento, which proclaimed that "the great Spatialist revolution lies in the evolution of the means of art" (Exhibition Catalogue, London, Hayward Gallery, Lucio Fontana, 2000, p. 187). Concetto spaziale, Ritratto di Carlo Cardazzo was executed in the same year that Cardazzo held an exhibition to celebrate the first decade of Spatialism and it is conceivable that Fontana, despite his passionate commitment to abstraction, forged a semi-literal depiction of his friend with this painting. When inverted the composition here resembles a very basic schematic physiognomy, with two eyes, a straight line for a nose and a vaguely mouth shaped hole, in a manner that would later become associated with the work of Georg Baselitz. As was the case with some later works, such as the Venezia and New York series and some early sketches for the Fine di Dio series, Fontana seems to evoke suggestions of the figurative despite his aesthetic rhetoric remaining steadfastly abstract. Ultimately Concetto spaziale, Ritratto di Carlo Cardazzo remains one of the most arresting and captivating paintings that Fontana created, and is physical tribute to the friendship between two giants of post-War Art History.
Oil, mixed media and glass stones on canvas
Salzburg, Museum Carolino Augusteum, Bilder und Objekte aus der Sammlung Lenz Schönberg. Eine europäische Bewegung, 1985
Barcelona, Fundacío Caixa de Barcelona; Madrid, Fundacío Juan March, Zero, un Movimiento Europeo: Coleccíon Lenz Schönberg, 1988
Munich, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, ZERO. Vision und Bewegung. Werke aus der Sammlung Lenz Schönberg, 1988, p. 51, illustrated in colour
Moscow, Zentrales Künstlerhaus, Sammlung Lenz Schönberg. Eine europäische Bewegung in der bildenden Kunst von 1958 bis heute, 1989, p. 189, illustrated in colour
Innsbruck, Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Sammlung Lenz Schönberg: "...die Kunst von innen bittend...", 1991, p. 47, illustrated in colour
Warsaw, Galeria Zachęta, Sammlung Lenz Schönberg. Aus der Stille der Zeit - über die Grenzen von Raum, 1992, p. 105, illustrated in colour
Innsbruck, Kunstbrücke, Raiffeisen-Landesbank, ZERO. Die europäische Vision - 1958 bis heute. Sammlung Lenz Schönberg, 2003, p. 33, illustrated
Zagreb, Museum für zeitgenössische Kunst, ZERO. Die europäische Vision - 1958 bis heute. Sammlung Lenz Schönberg, 2004, p. 60, illustrated
Salzburg, Museum der Moderne, ZERO. Künstler einer europäischen Bewegung. Sammlung Lenz Schönberg 1956-2006, 2006, p. 45, illustrated in colour
125 by 85cm. 49 1/4 by 33 1/2 in.
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. II, Brussels 1974, p. 41, no. 56 P 45, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Generale, Vol. I, Milan 1986, p. 148, no. 56 P 45, illustrated
Katharina Hegewisch, 'Aufbruch ins Entgrenzte', in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 22 October 1988, illustrated
Karl Ruhrberg, Die Malerei in Europa und Amerika, 1945-1960, Die zweite Moderne, Cologne 1992, pp. 126-27, pl. 39, illustrated in colour
Ursula Philadelphy, 'Im Geist von Zero: Die Sammlung Lenz Schönberg', in: Parnass Sammlungen 13, 1993, p. 122, illustrated
Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana Catalogo Ragionato, Vol. I, Milan 2006, p. 289, no. 56 P 45, illustrated
Anna and Gerhard Lenz with Ulrike Bleicker-Honisch, Epoche Zero. Sammlung Lenz Schönberg. Leben in Kunst, Vol. I, Ostfildern 2009, p. 23, no. FO-05, illustrated in colour
Galleria del Naviglio, Milan
Madeleine Everaert, Brussels (acquired directly from the above in 1960)
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1970