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Lucio Fontana


Fontana, an artist of Italian origin born in Argentina, left for Milan with his father in 1905. He returned to Argentina in 1921 where he worked as a sculptor in his father’s studio in Rosario, Santa Fe. In 1924, he opened his own studio and in 1928, he enrolled at the Brera Academy in Milan where he studied under the sculptor Adolfo Widt, graduating in 1930. The influence of Widt and the Italian novocento can be seen in Fontana’s early work, such as the Victory plaster cast for the war memorial in Erba. However, the artist gradually abandoned the solemnity of Widt in favour of a plastic dynamism in his works. The sparkling gold painted on the plaster cast already heralds Fontana’s wish to liberate himself from the rigid materials that defined sculpture and painting. His desire was to create spatial art where the material is overtaken by what it projects. In 1934, he joined the Abstraction-Creation group. His abstract sculptures demonstrated his desire to bring the material to life through lines circulating freely in space. This is also the case in his engraved tablets where Fontana cuts slits in his material that seem to dig a path into the surface.

Fontana nevertheless continued to create figurative works during this period. At the start of the Second World War, Fontana decided to return to Argentina where he founded the Academia Altamira in 1946. That same year, he wrote the "Manifesto Blanco" which promulgated a new unitary art "based on the unit of time and space" which corresponded to a vision of the world formed by modern science. This first manifesto features the basis for the “Spatialism” that Fontana developed over five manifestos published upon his return to Italy in 1947. His Spatial Environments, such as the work exhibited for the first time at the Naviglio Gallery in Milan in 1949, composed of sinuous shapes in papier-mâché hanging from a ceiling covered in fluorescent paint lit by an ultraviolet light, is linked to the desire of Spatialism to create works that integrate and react with the surrounding environment. These ephemeral experiments combining painting, sculpture and architecture foreshadow those of Arte Povera and Land Art. At the end of the 1940s and during the 1950s, Fontana pursued his idea of creating art out of actual space and energy by creating his famous slashed canvases (Buchi), incorporated with fragments of glass or lacerated with a razor blade (Attese). Fontana applied his process of intrusion in the medium as much in his painted works as his sculpted works, and entitled it “Spatial Concept”. His final works, the Teatrini (small theatres) composed of cut-out shapes, resemble stage sets. What is special about the art of Lucio Fontana is that it doesn’t fit into any particular category. The artist had an incredibly varied career, continuously oscillating between the abstract and the figurative, mixing ceramics, painting, sculpture and architecture, and juggling with old and new materials. Although Fontana's artistic programme is defined in his various manifestos, his works always seem to be just beyond our reach, borne by a poetry that never ceases to surprise us.

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