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Lucio Fontana Concetto spaziale, Attesa, 1964

Lucio Fontana

Lucio Fontana was born in 1899 in Rosario, Argentina to Italian Immigrants. He spent his first few years in Argentina before moving back to Italy in 1905. His father, Luigi Fontana, was also a sculptor which likely influenced Lucio Fontana’s own practice. In Italy, Fontana lived with his uncle before beginning his apprenticeship with his father who had by then returned to Italy. Fontana’s studies were disrupted by World War 1 and Fontana volunteered as a soldier in 1916. After the war he continued his studies and became a building inspector.


In 1921, Fontana returned to Argentina and worked as a sculptor full time. By 1925, he had founded his own studio and began receiving commissions. His work at this time, often in marble, was primarily figurative. He had been taking classes with Adolfo Wildt, but their styles began to diverge in 1930 when Fontana made Uomo nero. Uomo nero marks a new phase for Fontana, one defined by greater focus on shape and form instead of more purely figurative works. His explorations of geometrical forms, are radically different from his early works. This is not to say that Fontana abandoned his classical instincts or sculpture in the round; he also produced a frizzes for the Memorial to Fascist Martyrs in Milan as well as other more traditional works.


In 1940 Fontana returned to Argentina, where he began to experiment on both a philosophical and material level. He taught courses at both the Escuela de Artes Plasticas in Rosario, Prilidiano Pueyrredon in Buenos Aires, and the Escuela Libre de Artes Plásticas, also in Buenos Aires. Through these courses he was exposed to younger artists and radical new ideas on art and aesthetics. These issues came to fore in the Manifiesto Blanco, which was written by many artists including Fontana. In this same year, 1947, Fontana began to develop his own new theory of Spazialismo. He issued a manifesto on Spazialismo in both 1948 and 1950, when he had moved back to Milan. As part of this movement he began to work in what has since become his most recognized form; punctured canvas. His Buchi series consists of circular swirls of holes punched through a canvas. These explorations of light are also reflected in Fontana’s neon works.


The 1950s brought great success to Fontana as he was part of many major international exhibitions. He began many of his most iconic series at this time. His Pietre works built upon his Buchi series, adding small pieces of glass and rock to his pierce canvases. By adding greater levels of spatiality to these works, Fontana was able to expand upon the classical parameters of painting. His Gessi series similarly built upon his Buchi series but instead of examinging the three-dimenisonality of the works, Fontana expanded upon their two-dimensional forms. Using pastel chalk, he created dramatic, often rounded forms that were overlayed on the small holes.  A similar series was I Barocchi. This series, however, has much more dramatic decoration. The massive swirls of paint over the holes draw from the innate drama and lighting of Baroque painting.


His most well-known series, Tagli, was created in1958. In Tagli, Fontana slashed the canvas in an inherently dramatic, and perhaps violent, gesture. This series built upon his previous piercings. Tagli was integrated into Fontana’s well known installation at the 33rd Venice Biennale with architect Carlo Scarpa. They constructed a large white space with slashed canvas surfaces by Fontana. Again playing with light, the installation was brightly lit up to highlight the slashes and interplay between dark and light spaces. In the 1960s Fontana also began using a more limited color palette and began associating with Zero, the artistic movement founded by Heinz Mack and Otto Piene that reacted against the excesses of Abstract Expressionism and focused on purity of form and color.


Fontana died in Varese, Italy in 1968 at the age of 69. His work is held in numerous museum collections, such as the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna. Fontana has also had many solo shows, including ones at the Walker Art Center, Whitechapel Gallery, Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Hayward Gallery.

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