Over 40 Years since His Death, a Look at Lucio Fontana’s Prolific Destruction

Feb 9, 2016 1:45PM

Lucio Fontana, the celebrated Italian painter widely considered to be the founder of Spatialism, spent the majority of his career honing in on the radical potential of a single kind of mark-making: the slash. “My discovery was the hole and that’s it,” he told an interviewer in 1968, the year of his death. “I am happy to go to the grave after such a discovery.” 

From the moment Fontana began to dot his canvases with tiny punctures in the ’40s, that single gesture remained the focal point for his famed paintings, which combined elements of sculpture and drawing, fine art and Futuristic concerns, to create a unique language at the intersection of multiple disciplines. At times compared to wounds, the carefully placed slashes and nuanced gestures of destruction relay a sense of pure physicality. Fontana’s most recognizable works relay an alchemic use of light and shadow, wherein the flatness of a canvas is exploited and reconfigured as a graceful sculptural object. “I make a hole in the canvas in order to leave behind me the old pictorial formula,” he once said. “The painting and the traditional view of art I escape symbolically, but also materially, from the prison of the flat surface.” 

At Robilant + Voena’s current exhibition of the artist’s work in St. Moritz, a curated selection focuses on his later works, which include lesser-known metal sculptures and ceramic objects. Working through much of his career on recursive, generative series—essentially, variations on a profoundly stripped-down set of themes—Fontana posthumously provides a glimpse into his working process over a period of decades. Instances of his Concetti spaziali (spatial concepts) series, under which many of his various cycles (for instance, the buchi cycle, named for the small pinpricks and holes it contains) from 1951 and 1957 are on display, as are more obscure object lessons in the artist’s analytical practice. In one of the Concetto Spaziale pieces from 1965, Fontana perforated a metal sheet and dotted the piece with ethereal blue Murano glass globes.

—M. Osberg

Lucio Fontana” is on view at Robilant + Voena, St Moritz, Dec. 4th, 2015 – Feb. 29th, 2016.

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