Commentary on Spatial Concept, Waiting/+1-AS/The gardener is arranging the garden (Concepto espacial, Espera/+1-AS/El jardinero está arreglando el jardín)
Concepto espacial (Spatial Concept) is an early work from Fontana’s “slash” series, the group of works that would most powerfully consolidate his status as an innovative artist and key representative of a line of experimentation with materials that took place during the post-War period. This work could be analyzed as the culminating point of a period initiated by the artist during his stay in Argentina from 1940 to 1947. During this time, especially the years following the end of the War, Fontana became involved with the climate of experimentation that motivated avant-garde groups working with abstraction and, to a certain extent, with exhibitions that expressed opposition to the rise of Peronism (which learned sectors in Argentina associated with the regime defeated in Europe at the end of the Second World War). In this sense, he participated in the Salón Independiente with his piece La mujer de Lot (Lot’s Wife)—as opposed to the Salón Nacional (identified with official positions on the rise)—held in parallel to the Marcha de la Constitución y de la Libertad (Constitution and Liberty March, a massive demonstration by the opposition that took place in September, 1945). Fontana would rapidly transit an itinerary that he had experienced in Milan with the rise of fascism, to which he had adhered fundamentally due to an initial support for an aesthetic of artistic renovation. It is true that he also participated in Vita Giovanile magazine, which although financed by the fascists, would develop to become an instrument of opposition to that system. During this short itinerary, Fontana came to understand to what extent abstraction could function as an aesthetic of resistance (1). Above and beyond the political circumstances, it is interesting to observe the fact that when Fontana returns to Argentina, he alternates between “academic” realism and a more expressionist line. Fontana supported himself primarily through teaching. He spent part of his time as a professor at the Escuela de Altamira, which offered an independent formation and where other artists, critics and intellectuals such as Emilio Pettoruti, Víctor Rebuffo, Jorge Romero Brest and Gonzalo Losada participated. At the same time, he also taught at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes Manuel Belgrano. It was there, with a group of students from that school that he would discuss the Manifiesto blanco (White Manifesto). It was written primarily by Bernardo Arias, Horacio Cazeneuve and Marcos Fridman, giving shape to Fontana’s ideas about working with space as a material—something that he was doing when he lifted his clay sculptures, breaking the forms apart with his hands. Fontana aspired to project a painting-sculpture into space by means of light. It was in this atmosphere of controversies and confrontations between different sectors of the abstract avant-garde in Buenos Aires, then, that Fontana would redefine ideas that can be found in some of his sculptures from the thirties, to fully take shape when he returned to Milan in 1947. Although Fontana does not figure among those who signed the Manifiesto blanco, he was the one who inspired and granted continuity to the ideas enunciated there. When he returned to Milan, Fontana worked on the fusion between matter and space, based on an idea of transformation. On the one hand, through interventions with light that he presented at the Galleria del Naviglio in 1949 and at the Triennale di Milano in 1951, and on the other hand, when he established perforation as the basis for his new language. Ten years passed between the first perforation and the first slash, during which Fontana developed successive and coexisting series that as a whole constitute the Conceptos espaciales: Buchi, Pietre, Gessi, Barocchi, Tagli (Spatial Concepts: Holes, Stones, Plaster Pieces, Baroque Pieces, Slashes). The slashes (Tagli) are initiated in 1958, a further development of the perforations in clay, fabric, ceramic or paper that were organized in spirals or in rhythmic parallel lines. The Tagli are concise cuts grouped on a single canvas or presented as one cut alone, as is the case in the MNBA’s work. The idea of spatialism postulates a fusion between artistic thought and scientific thought. Nevertheless, Fontana’s work is predominantly characterized by the material and gesture. It does not entertain geometric proposals or systems based on formulas or numbers. The slashes are a way of working directly with the idea of a new space between the canvas and the real world. Giulio Carlo Argan pointed out: “The colored canvas was the virtual space that the artist’s gesture, cut or slash transmuted, making it an invention or spatial concept” (2). Both Espera (Waiting) and Naturaleza (Nature, inv. 7833, MNBA) evidence the fact that Fontana developed multiple experiences in parallel. On the one hand, there is a concise cut that passes through a large part of the horizontal canvas longitudinally, which leads the canvas to retract and an intermediate space to emerge between its surface and an undetermined, non-specific space behind: it is not the wall, it is not part of another composition, it is a sculptural link between the canvas and the space it generates through the cut’s curve, where the part behind is covered with a thin black cloth. 1959 would be a crucial year in his work. It marks the moment that he begins a series of ceramic sculptures, making deep cuts and perforations in a fresh, bodily mass instead of working on the flat surface of a canvas. Whether finished in ceramic or cast in bronze, this series conserves the sensation of immediacy between the mass of material and the artist’s hand, penetrating it. Many associations have been made between his perforations and cuts and their different possible references: from the skies over Argentina to the violence in the suburbs of Rosario during his childhood or the war in Europe, to comparisons with the excavated eyes of Adolfo Wildt’s sculptures or the stigmata on the hands of Christ that Fontana created for the Castellotti tomb in Milan in 1935. There are no simple, unequivocal answers that allow a single meaning to be established for these pieces. What remains outstanding is the potency of gesture, taking on unique visual forms that is so characteristic of all of his work.
by Andrea Giunta
1— Andrea Giunta, “Crónica de posguerra: Lucio Fontana en Buenos Aires” in: Lucio Fontana: un seminario. Santiago de Chile, Pontificia Universidad Católica, 1998, p. 95-138. Also in: Lucio Fontana. Obras maestras de la colección Lucio Fontana de Milán, exhib. cat. Buenos Aires, Fundación Proa, 1999, p. 72-87.
2— Giulio Carlo Argan in: Lucio Fontana, el espacio como exploración, exhib. cat. Madrid, Palacio Velázquez, 1982, p. 114.
1959. DORFLES, Gillo, Lucio Fontana, con opere dal 1931 al 1959. Milano, Conchiglia, fig. 16.
1962. Instituto Torcuato Di Tella 1960-1962, dos años y medio de actividad. Buenos Aires, Instituto Torcuato Di Tella, [s.p.].
1966. CIRLOT, Eduardo, Lucio Fontana. Barcelona, Gustavo Gili, p. 37, reprod.
1986. CRISPOLTI, Enrico, Fontana. Catalogo generale. Milano, Electa, vol. 1, p. 305.