Lucio Fontana

Spatial Concept


Not on display

Lucio Fontana 1899–1968
Original title
Concetto Spazial
Unconfirmed: 550 × 846 mm
frame: 754 × 1047 × 56 mm
Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1985

Display caption

Fontana began to make holes (or buchi) through his canvases in 1949-50. At its simplest, this can be seen as marking the movement of the artist’s hand, like the brushwork in Abstract Expressionist painting. However, the puncturing ensured that Fontana literally cut between the space occupied by the viewer, through the surface of the canvas, to the space that lies beyond. Fontana saw this as evocative of infinity, claiming ‘I have created an infinite dimension’.

Gallery label, March 2005

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Catalogue entry

Lucio Fontana 1899-1968

T03961 Spatial Concept 49-50 B4 1949-50

Punctured stretched canvas with seal coat 550 x 846 (21 5/8 x 33 5/16)
Inscribed ‘l. fontana | 1950' b.r., ‘l. fontana "Concetto Spaziale" 1950' on back of canvas centre and ‘Concetto Spaziale No.12' in another hand on back of stretcher
Purchased from the Fondazione Lucio Fontana (Grant-in-Aid) with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1985
Prov: Mrs Teresita Fontana, Milan; Fondazione Lucio Fontana from 1982
Exh: Aspetti della ricerca informale in Italia fino al 1957, Palazzo del Museo, Livorno, March-April 1963 (no number, repr. pl.240, as ‘Concetto Spaziale'); IX Quadriennale Nazionale d'Arte de Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizione, Rome, Nov. 1965-April 1966 (no number, pl.54); Dix ans d'art vivant, 1945-1955, Fondation Maeght, St-Paul-de-Vence, April-May 1966 (1, repr.); Lucio Fontana - Concetti Spaziali, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, March-May 1967, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, May-July 1967 (3, repr. p.10 as ‘Concetto Spaziale'); Fontana: Ideer om rymden, Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Jan.-Feb. 1967, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Aug.-Oct. 1967 (4, as ‘Concetto Spaziale'); Lucio Fontana, Kestner-Gesellschaft, Hanover, Jan.-Feb. 1968 (4, repr. p.13 as ‘Concetto Spaziale'); Lucio Fontana, Galeriea Civica d'Arte Moderna, Torino, Feb.-March 1970 (34, repr. pl.30 as ‘Concetto Spaziale'); Westkunst, Museen der Stadt, Cologne, May-Aug. 1981 (339, repr. p.400 as ‘Concetto Spaziale 49-50 B4'); El Espacio Como Exploración, Palacio de Velazquez, Madrid, April-June 1982 (4, repr. p.40); Lucio Fontana, Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, Monaco di Bavaria, Dec. 1983-Feb.1984, Mattildenhöhe, Darmstadt, April-May 1984, Kunsthalle, Bielefeld, Aug.-Sept. 1984 (17, repr. p.40)
Lit: Guido Ballo, Lucio Fontana, New York 1971, p.157; Enrico Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, Brussels 1974, II, p.24; 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; The Friends of the Tate Gallery Report 1984-5, 1985, p.14 repr.; Enrico Crispolti, Fontana: Catalogo General, Milan 1986, I, pp.18-19 and 196, repr., p.196; Catharine Grenier, ‘The Ideal Fourth Dimension of Architecture', in Fontana, exh. cat. Fundació Caixa de Pensions, Barcelona 1988, p.114

Information supplied by Mrs Teresita Fontana is contained in a letter to the compiler dated 10 March 1988, from Valeria Ernesti, Secretary, Fondazione Lucio Fontana.

The chronology of Fontana's work was established by Crispolti (Enrico Crispolti 1974). Until 1948 Fontana had worked primarily as a sculptor and had also produced a considerable body of graphic work. His first works on canvas were those using perforations, the punctured holes known as ‘buchi', which first appeared in Fontana's work in 1949. According to Mrs Fontana, although the artist dated T03961 1950 Crispolti believes the work to have been produced slightly earlier. He lists T03961 as ‘49-50 B4 Concetto Spaziale' (the fourth ‘buchi' produced in the period 1949-50) and shows it to be the seventh example in a category that runs to hundreds of works covering the following ten years. According to Mrs Fontana, the inscription on the stretcher which reads ‘Concetto Spaziale no.12' was not written by the artist and ‘is probably the number of some exhibition'. The first ‘buchi' employed a circular distribution of perforations while T03961 and the two preceding works show roughly parallel bands of holes. T03961 was the first documented work to deploy these bands in a horizontal structure though as in the preceding, vertically orientated works these bands are loosely distributed, variable in length and merge in places. It was followed by two canvases perforated in a similar manner but vertically; ‘ Concetto Spaziale 49-50 B5' and ‘Concetto Spaziale 49-50 B6', (both repr. Enrico Crispolti p.96). T03691 used raw canvas covered by a seal coat and contrasts with Fontana's former sculptural work whch had been predominantly coloured.

T03961 is also the seventh documented work to carry the title ‘Concetto Spaziale' which Fontana used for almost all his subsequent work. In a letter to Charles Damiano dated February 1959 Fontana stated ‘I called all my paintings spatial concepts (because) they are neither paintings or sculptures' (quoted in Lawrence Alloway ‘Commentary' to ‘Technical Manifesto given at the Ist. International Congress of Proportion at the IXth Triennale, Milan, 1947', Ark, Winter 1959, pp.4-7).

The earliest ‘buchi' with their loose spiraling punches through bare and uncoloured canvas suggest analogies with stellar galaxies and the generic title of the works enhances the evocation of an astral world. The longitudinal distribution of punched holes in which no strict relationship or geometric rhythm is enforced is perhaps less obviously cosmic in feel but is still suggestive of some kind of spatial force field. Functionally the holes do two things; they reveal the space behind the canvas thereby destroying the surface and they plot an image on the surface, thus reaffirming its material qualities. The distribution of the marks, particularly in T03961, suggesting a geometric scheme but not strictly realising it, reveals the interplay of planning and accident.

In terms of Fontana's previous work the ‘buchi' were a surprising development and there is nothing which seems seriously to anticipate the move. Many commentators have seen these early perforated canvases as Fontana's first realisation of ideas propounded in the various manifestoes of the Spatialist movement. The first manifesto, drafted but not signed by Fontana, was written in 1946 by a group of fellow artists and several of Fontana's students at the Academia Altamira in Buenos Aires. Following a brief analysis of the evolution of Western Art the manifesto claims that future scientific and technological innovations will transform the material bases of art and that space-time will be embraced. The manifesto also gives the subconscious an equality with reason in the creative art. No formal solutions to the new art are indicated. Fontana returned to Milan from Argentina in 1947 and established a studio in Via Prima. The first meeting on Spatialist Art took place at the Architectural Studios of Peressati, Rogers and Belgioioso in Milan. Two further manifestoes were issued. One manifesto (undated), which was drawn up by Beniamino Joppolo, examines the notion of gesture which is seen as eternal and replaced the idea of the immortal physical work of art. The other, drawn up by Antonio Tullier, and dated 18th. March 1948, suggests ways in which this new spatial art can be realised.

All these pronouncements emphasise the primary role of space in the contemporary world and as a prerequisite for a contemporary artistic expression. Such a vision of space reflected Fontana's interest in current scientific developments and also in ‘futuristic' developments in cosmic space. Some years later Fontana wrote of the ‘buchi':

The discovery of the cosmos is a new dimension, it is infinity, so I made a hole in canvas, which was the basis of all the arts and I created an infinite dimension ... The idea is really right there, it is a new dimension corresponding to the cosmos.

The hole was, precisely, to create this empty space behind ... Man on earth made the first ‘gesture', a mark in the sand, he didn't set himself to picture or paint ... then the Assyrians began the second dimension, the profile, the movement in marble, in colour ... Then Paolo Uccello discovered the third dimension. These were all ideals, weren't they? First level, second level, and perspective, which is the third level and which was paralleled also by scientific discoveries. These were great novelties then ... Then the world was round ... that's nothing to us now, but then these were enormous discoveries. Einstein's discovery of the infinite dimension of the universe, without end. And then, it's like this: first, second and third level ... what do I have to do to go beyond this? ... I made a hole. Infinity passes through, light passes through, there's no need to paint ... everyone thought I wanted to destroy but that's not true, I created, not destroyed, (not dated, quoted in Crispolti 1986, p.19).

T03961 is not a painting, even according to the Spatialist definitions. The work is both gestural in its technique and by actually perforating the canvas Fontana created an extra dimension which is real and thus attempts to overcome the illusionistic representation of space. According to Erika Billeter it is in these early ‘buchi' that ‘Fontana first realised his ideas about dynamism ... which thus may be taken as an optical translation of the manifesto' (Erika Billeter 1977, p.170). This view is reiterated by Mrs Fontana who writes that the ‘"buchi" works were probably a consequence of the first, the "Manifesto Blanco" of 1946'.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.145-7

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