Lucio Fontana



Not on display

Lucio Fontana 1899–1968
Original title
Object: 610 × 730 mm
Purchased 1983

Display caption

Nature is one of a series of works made by cutting a gash across a sphere of terracotta clay, which Fontana subsequently cast in bronze. He believed that the incision was a ‘vital sign’, signalling ‘a desire to make the inert material live’. Fontana was concerned with transformation, and the shifting, yet indestructible density of matter. The Nature series was partly inspired by thoughts of the ‘atrocious unnerving silence’ awaiting man in space, and the need to leave a ‘living sign’ of the artist’s presence.

Gallery label, December 2005

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Catalogue entry

Lucio Fontana 1899-1968

T03588 Nature 1959-60

Bronze 610 x 730 diameter (24 x 28 3/4)
Not inscribed
Purchased from Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Prov: Purchased from Galerie Iris Clert, Paris by Mme Everaert, Brussels 1961, from whom bought by Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne
Exh: ‘Concetti Spaziali' di Fontana, Galerie Iris Clert, Paris, Nov. 1961 (not numbered, repr.); L. Fontana, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Sept.-Nov. 1972 (50); Lucio Fontana: Plastiken und Bildner 1953-1962, Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne, Oct. 1980; Lucio Fontana, Dia Art Foundation, Cologne, March-May 1981 (87, 88, 89 or 90); Westkunst, Museen der Stadt, Cologne, May-Aug. 1981 (526, repr. p.430 as ‘Natura 59/60 N.13'); Schwarz, Stadische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, Oct.-Nov. 1981 (no number repr. p.98); El Espacio Como Exploración, Palacio de Velazquez, Madrid, April-June 1982 (43, repr. p.105); Lucio Fontana - Plastik: Premieren '83, Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne, May-July 1983 (repr. p.52, as ‘59/60 N.13'); Forty Years of Modern Art 1945-1985, Tate Gallery, Feb.-April 1986 (not numbered)
Lit: Jan Van Der Marck, ‘Lucio Fontana; The Spatial Concept of Art' in Fontana, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 1966, pp.7-9; Guido Ballo, Lucio Fontana, New York 1971, pp.158,172; Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Brussels 1974, pp.194-5, repr. p.105; Erika Billeter, ‘Lucio Fontana; Between Tradition and Avant-Garde' in Lucio Fontana 1899-1968: A Retrospective, exh. cat. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1977, pp.13-20; Enrico Crispolti, Fontana: Catalogo General, Milan 1986, I, pp.22 and 353, repr. p.353

In his catalogue of Fontana's work Crispolti lists forty works bearing the title ‘Concetto Spaziale, Natura' (Crispolti 1986), although because many exist both as terracottas and in bronze editions the number of individual pieces in the series is much greater. The terracottas were made in Albisola and Fontana worked on them with the firm CEAS between 1959 and 1960. The bronze casts were made at the Fonderia Battaglia in Milan. T03588 was a unique cast of a terracotta which has not been traced. According to Mrs Fontana it is not known why only one cast was made (letter to the compiler from Valeria Ernesti, Secretary, Fondazione Lucio Fontana, 10 March 1988). Normally three bronzes exist for each terracotta but there were also editions of two and four. There are other examples of unique casts and further instances where the edition size is unknown.

The Nature pieces fall into two broad categories. While they are all monolithic, planet-like forms they are distinguished primarily by the kind of incision made in the surface. T03588 is described by Crispolti as ‘con squacio a taglio' (with a slit gash). It has a prominent, rough, slit running through the surface and extending at least two-thirds of the way round the form. Others like it are described in the same way or simply as ‘con taglio'. The second type ‘con squacio a buco' (with a hole-like gash) or just ‘con buco' have a hole (or holes) gouged out or punctured in to the surface. Works which display the same type of gash as ‘Nature 13' are numbers 1, 10, 14-18, 20-21, 24, 26-27, 30, 33-34 and 38-40 (repr. Crispolti 1986, pp.351-361).

In appearance the series of bronze casts to which T03588 belongs are very different from the terracottas. The latter are either untreated or painted in lush, glossy black. In contrast the bronzes have rough matt surfaces with variations in the patina and are slightly pitted in places. There are immense differences in the appearance of the gashes of both types, reflecting the speed and degree of spontaneity with which each was attacked. The direction of the cut, the physical force and gesture of the arm are also conveyed by the depth and surface texture of the incision and provoke, through the series, a wide range of associations. Speaking of the genesis of these monumental, primordial, sculptures Guido Ballo has written:

He began to be taken with the idea of a voyage into the mysteries of nature, and this was to result in the stupendous series ‘Nature', made with spheroid plastic elements, into which the impetuous gesture cuts or penetrates, thus creating most suggestive effects that recall craters, volcanoes or telluric upheavals (Ballo 1971, p.158).

In a statement some years after the making of these sculptures Fontana discussed their meaning:

I was thinking of these worlds, of the moon with these ... holes, this appalling silence which makes us anxious, and the astronauts in a new world. And then, these ... in the artist's imagination ... these immense things which have been there for thousands of millions of years ... and man arrives, in deadly silence, in this anxiety, and leaves a vital sign of his arrival ... There were these closed forms which signalled a desire to make the inert material live (not dated, quoted in Crispolti 1986, p.22).

The two types of pierced cavity that these sculptures display relate, in general to the two broad divisions in Fontana's punctured canvas works, ‘buchi' (holes) and the slit canvases, normally subtitled ‘attese' (waiting). The earliest punctured hole canvases date from 1949 and the earliest slit canvases date from 1958. Both types are represented in the Tate collection, the ‘buchi' by T03961 ‘Spatial Concept n.49-50' 1949 and the split canvases by T00694 ‘Spatial Concept "Waiting"' 1960. The series to which T03588 belongs was closely preceded by a goup of terracotta sculptures formed by slicing through a rough clay mass and slashing the clean interior planes with a sharp instrument. Full face they are closely related to the cut canvases which Fontana first experimented with around the same time. Although some half pieces exist as individual works several are displayed as two interdependent halves, like an apple cut down the middle. In addition N8-9, N12-13 and N14-15 of this earlier series are seen as reconstituted wholes. In the case of N8-9 (repr. Crispolti 1986, p.346) the two autonomous parts are placed flat on flat and closely resemble a single form with a surface cut running completely around the circumference.

T03588 was exhibited alongside a number of other ‘Nature' pieces at the Galerie Iris Clert, Paris, in 1961. It was purchased by Mme Everaert of Brussels and Fontana visited the owner and the work on a number of occasions. It is not known whether Fontana originally intended T03588 to be seen on its own or as part of group. According to Mr Karsten Greve (letter to Richard Calvocoressi June 10 1982) it was among Fontana's favourites from the series. However Mrs Fontana has suggested that they are ‘better seen in a group as at the Kröller-Müller, Otterlo or the Nationalgalerie, Berlin'.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.511-13

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