Artist to Know: Lucio Fontana

Liz Catalano
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Auction Kings Gallery Offers Slashed Painting From the Founder of Spatialism

The casual visitor to Lucio Fontana’s studio in the mid-20th century would find an unusual range of tools that he used for his craft. Laid beside the paintbrushes and mixing tools would be sharp knives, jagged pieces of glass, and razors. Using these objects, the Argentine-born Italian artist would slash, poke, and rip apart his paintings. Though criticized for his unusual methods, he left behind a legacy that continues to challenge the concepts of space, gesture, and the sanctity of the canvas.

One of Fontana’s signature slashed paintings will be available in Auction Kings Gallery’s upcoming auction, held on October 30th, 2020. Bidding for the work, as well as over 70 other lots, will start at 6:30 PM EDT. Find out more about Lucio Fontana and the artistic movement he started before the auction begins.

Ugo Mulas, Lucio Fontana, 1964. Image from Artsy, courtesy of Lia Rumma.
Ugo Mulas, Lucio Fontana, 1964. Image from Artsy, courtesy of Lia Rumma.

The son of a sculptor and an actress, Fontana spent his early years studying architecture, math, and the arts in Italy. He came of age as the Futurist movement began to accelerate and was influenced by its emphasis on speed and technology. Escaping the growing political turmoil that overwhelmed Italy in the 1920s, Fontana first established himself as a sculptor in Argentina. He would eventually bring that background to his paintings. 

Time spent in Paris and Buenos Aires introduced Fontana to some of his contemporaries, including Joan Miró and Tristan Tzara. Under their influence, he began to pen manifestos describing his vision for the future of art. Manifesto Blanco (1946) and Primo Manifesto dello Spazialismo (1947) set the groundwork for Spatialism, the movement that Fontana helped launch in his mature career. The Spatialists believed that art and technology should be integrated, blending both science and aesthetics.

For Fontana, that concept allowed an overlap between sculpture and visual art. “I do not want to make a painting,” he said, “I want to open up space, create a new dimension, tie in the cosmos, as it endlessly expands beyond the confining plane of the picture.”

Lucio Fontana, untitled oil painting. Image from Auction Kings Gallery.
Lucio Fontana, untitled oil painting. Image from Auction Kings Gallery.

Fontana lived this philosophy most famously through his Concetti Spaziale paintings. He started with monochrome canvases before slashing them with a knife or ripping gaping holes. Some of his most sophisticated and mature works played with the thickness of the paint, arrangement of the punctures, and placement of superficial lines. The result, according to a 2000 review in The New York Times, was “a nonchalant, audacious beauty that destroyed one kind of spatial illusion while creating another, and nicely ignored the distinctions between decorative and fine art and between plan and accident.” One of these works will be offered in the upcoming Auction Kings Gallery event with a presale estimate of USD 10,000 to $14,000.

Ironically, the artist’s minimalistic ripped paintings were equally criticized by reviewers and sought by collectors. Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio (Spatial Concepts, The End of God) currently holds Fontana’s auction record after selling for USD 29,173,000 in a 2015 Christie’s sale. The work offered in that auction is shaped like an egg, painted in bright yellow, and punctured with small holes. 

Most other Concetto Spaziale paintings are even more minimalistic. Phillips sold an off-white slashed piece for GBP 1,049,250 (USD 1,361,000) in 2012. Exhibited extensively before coming to auction, the 1960 painting was formerly in Andy Warhol’s collection.

Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, Attese, 1960. Image from Phillips
Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, Attese, 1960. Image from Phillips

Fontana lived to see success and recognition in the post-war period. Since the early 2000s, there has been another surge of interest in Fontana’s paintings, with over 200 artworks sold in 2015 alone. That figure has since leveled off, but the majority of his pieces still sell above USD 100,000. According to Sotheby’s, 93.4% of his works are increasing in value before hitting the auction block.

Fontana’s artistic process was notoriously violent. He would rip the canvas with his fingers and widen holes with his hands. He did not often paint beautiful paintings with appealing colors and calming compositions. Some works might turn the stomach. Others are deceptively simple. All are invitations to explore the less flattering aspects of the human experience.

Bidding for Fontana’s untitled slash painting will begin at 6:30 PM EDT on October 30th, 2020. Visit LiveAuctioneers for the complete catalog and to place a bid.