Lucio Fontana was the author of a new art form based on the union of time and space. Overstepping the traditional boundaries between architecture, sculpture and painting, the artist produced works capable of involving viewers in new emotive and sensory experiences, pointing out fertile paths of research. Fascinated by progress in technology and science, starting with Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Fontana operated within the context of an era that saw the United States and the Soviet Union pitted against each other in the space race. Drawing inspiration from Baroque sculptural inventions and the dynamic creations of Futurism, he was one of the endorsers of the Manifiesto Blanco (White Manifesto) in Buenos Aires in 1946, which advocated a new language based on “Colour, the element of space, sound, the element of time and the movement that unfolds in time and space.”1 In 1947 he returned to Milan, where a fertile intellectual climate favoured the birth of the Primo Manifesto dello Spazialismo (First Manifesto of Spatialism). As also stated in the subsequent manifestos (written in 1948 and 1950), the Spatial Movement “proposes to achieve a form of art with new media that technology has made available to artists,” and the Spatial Artists “have access to new media, such as radio, television, black light, radar and all those media that human intelligence is yet to discover.”2
On 5 February 1949, Fontana set up his first piece of environmental art: the Ambiente spaziale a luce nera (Spatial Environment in Black Light) at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan. Destroyed after the exhibition (like the majority of the artist’s environmental pieces), the installation consisted of a dark environment characterised by abstract geometric forms, with organic shapes, placed on the ceiling. Coated with fluorescent paints, the shapes seemed to emit their own light thanks to the action of the “black light”, or Wood’s lamp, which Fontana used in an artistic environment for the first time. The black light enabled him to transform darkness into an evocative place, offering visitors the emotion of an unforgettable “luminous form of space”, which could be perceived in total sensory freedom.3
Fontana was a tireless experimenter and, over the course of his long career, he developed numerous different operating methods, often working on several cycles at the same time. The work in the Cerruti Collection, entitled Concetto spaziale, Attese (Spatial Concept, Waiting) (1965), forms part of his Tagli (Cuts) cycle, which occupies a key position within Fontana’s corpus as a whole and was produced at the height of his artistic maturity. Initially described as slits in paper, Fontana made his first cuts in 1958 and presented them publicly during his solo shows in 1959 (firstly at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan in February and then at the Galerie Stadler in Paris in March), continuing into the following decade all the way through to the artist’s death in 1968. Comprising around 1,500 works, the Tagli is also one of the largest and most famous cycles he created. While the earlier Buchi (Holes), which he began making in 1949, present a radical piercing of the surface of the painting towards a new third dimension, with the Tagli, accompanied by the futuristic title Attese (Waiting), the artist made a further step forward, which he deemed to be almost definitive. In a well-known interview, Fontana told Giorgio Bocca: “With the cut I have invented a formula that I do not believe I can perfect upon. With this formula, I have managed to give the viewer of the painting an impression of spatial calm, cosmic rigour and infinite serenity. I cannot go further than this.”4
A famous series of photographs taken by Ugo Mulas in 1964 is among the documents that give the best idea of the conceptual work that went into the creation of each cut, an action that did not allow for errors. Always produced with a vertical action, running from top to bottom with a sharp Stanley knife, the cuts are individual slits in the canvas that stand out in the centre of the work or sequences that rhythmically multiply across the surface, cutting into it several times, as in the case of the work in the collection.
Marked by four cuts, the work in the Cerruti Collection is characterised, from the left, by a first cut, followed by a sequence of three cuts close together, with the central one taking on a slightly diagonal line. Albeit of similar length, the slits each reveal their own identity and are marked by different degrees of convexity that the artist achieved by adjusting them by hand. As in the other works in the Tagli cycle, a thick black gauze is glued to the back. Affectionately referred to as the “little canvas” by Fontana, this gauze served a practical and conceptual dual purpose. By offering static support, it prevents any deformities in the edges of the cut. By impeding the view of a wall behind the painting, the “little canvas” also emphasises the idea of openness to an infinite space, a dark void, free from recognisable restrictions and able to inspire the imagination.
Developed as pure monochromes from 1960 onwards, the canvases in the cycle stand out for the colour choices, which in the case of the work in the collection is a bright vermilion red. The impact of the monochrome is reinforced by the compact application, with no visible brushstrokes. This effect was achieved thanks to the decision to use diluted water-based paint normally used domestically. It was a paint that Fontana particularly enjoyed using in his later years because of its ability to create even surfaces and its rapid drying time, which was practical when it came to making the cuts, normally made when the canvas was not yet dry.
In addition to the signature and the title Concetto spaziale, Attese, the back of the work in the collection also features a sentence written by the artist: “Clara à lasciato la motoretta in cortile” (“Clara has left the scooter in the courtyard”, fig. 1). Attributable to a potential banal everyday event, the sentence forms part of an extensive case history developed by Fontana, partly so as to protect himself from forgers, finishing the works in the cycle with a variety of notes, including references to nature, spatial and sporting feats, political events, including obscure or vaguely mystical declarations or even hints regarding his state of health. In addition to the sentence, the artist also added an arrow, to show which way up the work should go. By examining the drops of red paint on the back of the wooden frame, we can note that Fontana applied the paint by turning the painting around at least once, using a method that sometimes led him to choose the definitive orientation only after having made the cuts. As in the majority of works in the cycle, no date is indicated, reinforcing the idea that the spatial concepts are placed outside the ordinary passage of time.
The work was exhibited in Turin at the Galleria Martano, during a solo exhibition held in October and November 1969. Francesco Federico Cerruti purchasedit in June 1995 at the Contemporary Art. Part I auction held by Sotheby’s in London. The imposing golden frame that surrounds Concetto spaziale, Attese was added by the collector after the workentered his collection. As in other cases, Cerruti chose to characterise this work by giving it an antique-style frame, presumably to foster the links with the numerous historical pieces and antique furnishings in his home.
1 “Manifiesto Blanco” (White Manifesto), text inspired by the ideas of Lucio Fontana, Buenos Aires, autumn 1946, in Crispolti 2006, vol. I, p. 114.
2 C. Cardazzo, R. Crippa, L. Fontana, G. Giani, B. Joppolo, M. Milani, “Proposal for a Regulated Spatial Movement (Milan, 2 April 1950)”, in Crispolti 2006, vol. I, p. 116.
3 L. Fontana, “Letter no. 261 of 30 July 1951, addressed to Gio Ponti”, in Campiglio 1999, pp. 217-218.
4 Bocca 1966.