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Fontana : On The Threshold

Lucio Fontana, Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, Expectations (1965)

Was Lucio Fontana an artist solely expressing the angst and physical scars left by the ravage of war when he decided to slash one canvas or perforate another with tiny holes? Or were Fontana’s holes and slashes some sort of visual openings onto a new world, a brave new world where limits were pushed back to leave war as far behind as possible? If at first sight these scars may look threatening, almost morbid for some, I think they actually have more to do with life than death.

Surprisingly, Fontana started as a sculptor.

Three-dimensionality and the importance of negative space were part of his formative vocabulary but his very personal obsession lied with spatialism, or the creation of space. As Sculpture only occupies space, this medium failed to fulfil such endeavour. Yet am I the only one to see an early “slash”, an opening in this early Olympic Champion from 1932?

Lucio Fontana, Ceramica Spaziale (1953)

What about these tiny little holes in Spatial Ceramic (1953) juxtaposed with this Concetto Spaziale (1949)?

Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale (1949)

In the 1950’s, at a time when the “Space Race” between the Soviet Union and the US was raging, Fontana’s personal quest became none other than a breathing space for minds traumatized by war. He redirected his art to become an exploration of space, yet with none of the intergalactic costs of space programs.

Instead, to all the grand gestures of his contemporaries – the Abstract Expressionist painters covering broad expanse of canvas with either energetic or anguished brushstrokes- Fontana responded with material and visual economy.

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, Expectation (1967)

His slashing appears clinical, ever so controlled yet showing that what would become termed arte povera may be minimalistic yet nothing short of a revolution. No passing from atmosphere into stratosphere with Fontana’s artistic space exploration yet he breathed new life into art with his Concetto Spaziale (Spatial Concept).

With it, Fontana freed Painting from its past limitations of two-dimensions and optical illusion of depth.

Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale, New York 10 (1962)

Fontana’s rupture is literally and metaphorically a slash, a real hole, opening up a painting to new depth and volume, revealing a space between flatness and depth. A stage for a new world?

To me, it echoes fatally wounded Mercutio in Shakepeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Mercutio declared:

“Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch”,

moving on to:

“No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but ’tis enough,’twill serve: ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man”.

Well, Lucio Fontana denied death its due and slashed himself a very special space in Art History.


Lucio Fontana: On the Threshold is at Met Breuer and The Met Fifth Avenue until April 14, 2019.

© 2019 Ingrid Westlake

All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.

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