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(1899 – 1968), Argentina

Lucio Fontana Biography

Lucio Fontana was an influential Argentine-Italian artist and theorist, best known for being the father of Spazialismo (also known as Spatialism). His trademark perforated canvases drew both the ire and admiration of critics in the 1950s and 1960s.

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Fontana was born in Argentina in 1899 to an Argentinian mother and an Italian father who was a sculptor by trade. Although he moved to Milan in 1905 for his education, Fontana returned to Argentina in 1921 to work in his father's sculpture studio for several years. Later, Fontana established his own studio. In 1926 he participated in the first exhibition of Nexus, a group of independent young Argentine artists. Fontana then went back to Milan in 1927 to study at the Accademia di Brera for two years. As a result of his studies, he had his first solo exhibition at the Galleria del Milione in 1930.

The 1930s saw Fontana begin to develop an expressive abstract style, producing flat bronze and ceramic sculptures such as Scultura Astratta (1934, painted iron). In this period he became involved with the Parisian group Abstraction-Création and the Milanese, anti-fascist artist group Corrente. He also began to collaborate with architects.

When World War II broke out Fontana moved back to Argentina, where in 1946 he founded the Academia Altamira. Collaborative efforts between the students and teachers of the Academy produced the 'Manifiesto Blanco'—a manifesto calling for art that combined elements of colour, movement, sound, time and space. When he moved back to war-ravaged Milan in 1947 Fontana expanded on these ideas and established Movimento Spaziale (Spatialist Movement). In collaboration with other theorists he created the 'Primo Manifesto dello Spazialismo' (First Manifesto of Spatialism). This was one of five manifestos produced between 1947 and 1952. Spatialism, through a deeply philosophical set of ideas, was primarily concerned with escaping the tyranny of the traditional two-dimensional surface. It wanted to project a work into real space, doing so by marrying art and science through new techniques and materials.

In 1949, Fontana exhibited his first 'Spatial Environment' at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan, featuring a giant abstract shape suspended in an empty darkened room and illuminated by curved lines of neon. Later shows on this theme were multi-dimensional experiences, featuring sound, abstract sculptural shapes, luminous paint and fluorescent lighting. The 'Spatial Environment' concept not only pioneered the idea of environmental and installation art, but also, through its unconventional materials and methods, was a forerunner of the Arte Povera movement.

More familiar to an international audience are Fontana's series of perforated abstract works that were begun in the late 1940s and share the title 'Concetto Spaziale' (Spatial Concept). He would paint canvases in monochromatic colours, or simply stretch out a material like linen, then stab the material to create buchi (holes). These holes violate the material's flat surface, exposing the space beneath. The buchi were not the product of random stabbing but formed patterns, whether simple circles, as in Concetto spaziale (Teatrino) (1965, waterpaint on canvas and lacquered wood frame) or complex abstract designs as in 18 Concetto Spaziale, (1960, linen).

In the mid-1950s Fontana added paintings with distinctive tagli (cuts)—vertical or diagonal slashes made with a sharp blade on a monochrome surface—to his repertoire. These incisions reveal the black gauze on the back of the canvas, contrasting the monochrome surface to create the impression of an infinite void.

From the mid- to late 1950s, Fontana also violated the two-dimensional surface of the canvas with embedded pieces of coloured glass, scratches and coloured areas mixed with sand. By breaching the surface of the two-dimensional canvas in such ways Fontana blurred the lines between painting, sculpture and expressive gesture. He began introducing breaches and punctures into his ceramics as well, continuing to work in his distinctive surface-disrupting style until his death in 1968.

His first major international retrospective was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1977. Subsequent museum exhibitions include Musée national d'art moderne de la ville de Paris and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1987 (traveled to La Fundación 'la Caixa' Barcelona; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Whitechapel Art Gallery, London in 1988); Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1996 (traveled to Museum Moderner Kunst Stifung Ludwig, Vienna, 1997); Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan (1999); La Fundación 'la Caixa' and Museo National Cantro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (1998); Hayward Gallery, London (1999); and Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2006–07).

Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2018

Exhibition view: Lucio Fontana, Fontana Ceramics, Robilant+Voena, Paris (19 May–25 June 2021). Courtesy Robilant+Voena. 

Lucio Fontana Featured Artworks

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Spatial Concept by Lucio Fontana contemporary artwork
Lucio FontanaSpatial Concept, 1952Glazed ceramic
Robilant+Voena Contact Gallery
Bullfight by Lucio Fontana contemporary artwork
Lucio FontanaBullfight, 1950Glazed ceramic
48 x 48 x 9 cm
Robilant+Voena Contact Gallery
Spatial Concept by Lucio Fontana contemporary artwork
Lucio FontanaSpatial Concept, 1964Glazed ceramic
20.3 x 61 x 20.3 cm
Robilant+Voena Contact Gallery
Concetto spaziale by Lucio Fontana contemporary artwork
Lucio FontanaConcetto spaziale, 1959Painted terracotta, graffiti and cut
Bailly Gallery Contact Gallery

Lucio Fontana Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Lucio Fontana, Fontana Ceramics at Robilant+Voena, Paris
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19 May–25 June 2021 Lucio Fontana Fontana Ceramics Robilant+VoenaParis
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Post-War Italian Art Tales at Mazzoleni, London
12 April–6 June 2021 Group Exhibition Post-War Italian Art Tales MazzoleniLondon
Contemporary art exhibition, Lucio Fontana | Enrico Baj | Piero Manzoni, Lucio Fontana | Enrico Baj | Piero Manzoni at Mazzoleni, Turin
15 October–19 December 2020 Lucio Fontana | Enrico Baj | Piero Manzoni MazzoleniTurin

Lucio Fontana Represented By

Bailly Gallery contemporary art gallery in Paris, France Bailly Gallery Geneva, Paris
Cardi Gallery contemporary art gallery in Milan, Italy Cardi Gallery London, Milan
Lévy Gorvy contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Lévy Gorvy New York, Palm Beach, London, Hong Kong, Paris
Mazzoleni contemporary art gallery in Turin, Italy Mazzoleni London, Turin
Robilant+Voena contemporary art gallery in London, United Kingdom Robilant+Voena London, Paris, New York, Milan

Lucio Fontana In Ocula Magazine

How Auction Houses are Approaching Their Crucial Summer Sales Ocula News How Auction Houses are Approaching Their Crucial Summer Sales New York, 25 June 2020

Sotheby's, Christie's, Phillips and Bonham's have changed what they're selling and how they're selling it for major auctions taking place over the next two weeks.

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Armory Week Lowdown: Shows to See Ocula Feature Armory Week Lowdown: Shows to See By Sharmistha Ray, New York

The Armory Show opens to the public on 7 March (running to 10 March 2019)—just about a week after the fair relocated a portion of its 194 exhibitors due to structural issues found in Pier 92, forcing its sister fair Volta to cancel its 2019 show so that Armory could occupy its Pier 90 venue. Despite the upheaval, New York 's art week is...

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Lucio Fontana In Related Press

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LOOSE CANON Related Press LOOSE CANON 21 October 2019, ARTFORUM

IN JUNE, NEW YORK'S MUSEUM OF MODERN ART WENT DARK to put the finishing touches on its contentious five-year expansion, which promised to put $450 million and 47,000 square feet of Diller Scofidio + Renfro architecture toward fostering a 'deeper experience of art' across boundaries of media, geography, and identity. Today, MoMA emerges from its...

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A chameleon who never lost his feeling for clay – Lucio Fontana at the Met Related Press A chameleon who never lost his feeling for clay – Lucio Fontana at the Met 15 March 2019, Apollo

Was Lucio Fontana, at heart, just an easily distracted ceramicist? So one might conclude from the current exhibition at the Met. The show reveals a chameleon figure, highly responsive to the prevailing winds of art and politics. He worked across many artistic disciplines, in contexts that should have been antithetical to one another, leaving an...

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The Politics Behind the Massacred Canvases of Lucio Fontana Related Press The Politics Behind the Massacred Canvases of Lucio Fontana 8 February 2019, Hyperallergic

Lucio Fontana could have spent the rest of his natural-born life building colossal tombs and funerary statues for his father's sculpture workshop in Argentina. Instead, he traveled the world in search of immortality. Participant and witness to the world wars that rocked early 20th-century Europe, the Argentine-Italian artist harnessed the...

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Walls with Incisions a La Fontana by Adriana Varejão Related Press Walls with Incisions a La Fontana by Adriana Varejão 22 April 2018, Elephant

Lucio Fontana's best-known works to this day are without a doubt his Concetti Spaziale, the simple, aggressive slashes into monochrome canvases that he began to make in the late 1940s. In the Argentinian-born artist's mind, he was cutting into the cosmos, bringing another dimension to the flat planes of painting. The highly recognizable slash...

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Lucio Fontana In Video & Audio

Lucio Fontana - Panel Discussion | 2015 | London Related Video & Audio Lucio Fontana - Panel Discussion | 2015 | London 12 March 2020, Tornabuoni Art

Panel Discussion with Enrico Crispolti (Art critic, Curator and Art historian), Luca Massimo Barbero (Director of Fondazione Cini in Venice) and Edward Lucie-Smith (Art critic, Curator and poet).

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Lucio Fontana, A rediscovered Masterpiece | Lucio Fontana & Jef Verheyen | 1962 | Belgium Related Video & Audio Lucio Fontana, A rediscovered Masterpiece | Lucio Fontana & Jef Verheyen | 1962 | Belgium 28 May 2014, Tornabuoni Art

Ce film documente un chef-d’œuvre retrouvé, où Lucio Fontana perfore l’œuvre de son ami Jef Verheyen, en 1962.

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