Written by Miss Rosen. One day back in 1948, Italian artist Lucio Fontana (18991968) reached a state of frustration that gave way to rage, turning against a painting he was making and violently piercing the canvas. This act of destruction was anything but, for it gave birth to what became known as Concetti Spaziali, or "Spatial Conceptions," Fontana’s new vision of art.
Where the canvas was traditionally seen as a mere two-dimensional surface upon which representation would lie, Fontana recognized it was a three-dimensional object integral to the work of art. For Fontana, the medium was the message, one that he understood as a natural extension of his prior training as an avant-garde sculptor.
Born in Rosario de Santa Fé, Argentina, and raised in his father’s native Milan, Fontana alternately traveled between the two countries for the first half of his life. Possessed by a fascination with the interplay between light and space, and the ways in which they transformed our environment, Fontana intuitively understood the ephemeral nature of the physical realm.
Just one year before he transformed the picture plane forever more, Fontana wrote in “Spatial Manifesto” that, “Art is eternal, but it cannot be immortal, it may live for a year or for millennia, but the time of its material destruction will always come: it will remain eternal as gesture, but it will die as material.”
With this knowledge, Fontana had no qualms about what he needed to do in order to innovate and reshape the landscape of modern art. “We want art to be freed from material,” he revealed. “Through space, we want it to last a millennium even for transmission of only a minute.” A tall order perhaps, but one that quickly took hold in the imagination of artists of the era who had begun to embrace the possibilities of light by working with neon, television, and projection.
In 1949, Fontana began making the “Buchi”, a series of punctured paintings, as well as his first spatial environment inside a dark room, where shapeless sculptures and fluorescent paintings silently throbbed under black light. Two years later, Fontana was convinced of the direction in which he moved, declaring in “Technical Manifesto of Spatialism” a desire to overturn painting, sculpture, and poetry in favor of art that used “the fourth dimension in architecture” to bring together color, sound, movement, and space.
“The Spatial Artist no longer imposes a figurative theme on the viewer, but puts him in the position of creating it himself, through his own imagination and the images that he receives,” wrote Fontana, foretelling the transformation of modern art under the auspices of a new generation of avant-garde artists including Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, and the Nouveau Réalisme group.
For Fontana, paintings were not the ends, but the means — a vital space where unconventional thought and experimentation enabled artistic freedom to reign. In 1958, he introduced Tagil, his signature knife slashes across the canvas, which he named "Concetto Spaziale, Attese" (Spatial Conception, Expectation). Deftly lining the reverse of the monochrome canvases with black gauze to create the illusion of shimmering, limitless depth, Fontana anticipated the arrival of the Minimalists by transforming the canvas into a meditative object.
"As a painter working on one of my prepared canvases, I don't want to make a picture,” Fontana wrote. “I want to open up space, to create a new dimension for art, to connect it up with the cosmos as it likes infinitely outstretched, beyond the flat surface of the image. By inventing the hole through the canvas, by its repeated use, I did not want to ‘decorate’ a surface—on the contrary, I tried to smash the dimensions which limit it. A long way beyond the slash canvas, a newly won freedom awaits us: but just as obviously, the end of art awaits us too.”
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