Lucio Fontana is an Italian painter, sculptor, and theorist who spent the majority of his formative years and early career splitting his time between Argentina and Italy. Born in Argentina, he moved with his family to Milan in 1905, where he eventually trained at the Accademia di Brera from 1928 to 1930 under the instruction of sculptor Adolfo Wildt. Though Wildt subscribed to the staid Novecento Italiano aesthetic, Fontana would reject this in favor of developing a more modern style that was dynamic, nervous, and could appear at times almost weapon-like.
In 1934 he became a member of Abstraction-Création, an association of artists formed in Paris three years prior in opposition to Andre Breton’s Surrealist group. They advocated for abstraction in a climate that had embraced representation since the 1920s. His work at this time was not only decidedly abstract, but also tended to toe the line between painting and sculpture, often taking the form of plaster reliefs or freestanding but planar works. Other contradictions in his work included the use of meandering yet straight edge lines, and a mix of regular, geometric shapes and organic, biomorphic, and curvilinear forms. His hand-manipulated clay works aligned with the contemporary Neo-Expressionist trend toward the fragmented, violent, and disturbed.
Fontana returned to Argentina during World War II and founded the Academia Altamira in 1946. In collaboration with his co-founders and fellow artists Jorge Romero Brest and Jorge Larco, Fontana contributed to Manifesto blanco, which introduced Spazialismo, or Spatialism – a movement he would later expand upon in five other manifestos from 1947 to 1952. This period marked the end of his experimentation with figurative art, but more notably the end of his focus on static and classical abstraction. Instead, Fontana switched his focus to techniques that emerged due to scientific progress at the time, including a rejection of the two-dimensional Western tradition of a flat support (i.e. canvas, paper) in favor of working in three or even four-dimensional modes. He aimed to liberate art from the limiting constraints of two-dimensions by uniting color, sound, space, movement and time.
Upon returning to Italy in 1948 he began staging temporary installations referred to as Spatial Environments. These experiments prefigured similar movements that would take hold in the coming decades, including environmental art, land art, performance art, and Arte Povera. The first of these installations in 1949 involved oversized, amoeba-like shapes that were suspended in a dark room punctured by neon light. Artists such as Dan Flavin would later use fluorescent light as a medium in minimalist sculptures of the 1960s.
Fontana expanded upon Spazialismo in collaboration with Luciano Baldessari during the early 1950s. Baldessari helped him to incorporate a greater sense of environment, architecture, and space into his sculptural works. The pair believed that all matter should be transformed into energy in order to express a dynamic invasion of space in art. For Fontana this manifested itself in a synthesis of various elements in his art - his Concetto Spaziale, or Spatial Concepts series. These works, among his most famous, include his buchi (holes) and tagli (slashes) canvases in which he would alter the surface by puncturing or cutting. The emphasis on chance, accident, and imprecision recall his earlier ceramics, and other similar movements developing and gaining attention around mid-century such as Art Informel, Tachism, and Abstract Expressionism.
Fontana was awarded the Grand Prize for Painting at the Venice Biennale of 1966, only two years before his death in 1968. His work may be viewed today in the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome; and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, among others.
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