Lucio Fontana is born in Rosario di Santa Fé (Argentinien) in 1899 as the son of a sculptor. After his studies at the Accademia di Brera in Milan he returns in 1922 to Argentina where he lives until 1928 and works first as a sculptor. In addition to figurative works, abstract terracotta relief prints are created along with plaster plates painted with abstract sign elements, in which Fontana works on influences of surrealistic »écriture automatique.« In 1934 first sculptures out of iron wire are created, such as Scultura astratta, in which Fontana’s interest for the dissolution of volume in moving space lines can already be seen. In 1935 Fontana joins the Italian section of the French group »Abstraction-Création« which defends abstract art against the view of art promulgated by upcoming fascist movements.
Fontana returns to Argentina for the duration of the war years from 1949 to 1946. Here his avant-garde experiments find a provisional end. He turns to more traditional forms of sculpture. With the founding of a private academy in 1946, he picks up where he left off during the time in Milan. The same year the »Manifesto Blanco« comes about with the cooperation of his students, a futuristic manifesto demanding the revitalization of art and the elimination of medium boundaries. Fontana however distances himself distinctly from the warmongering attitude and the contempt of tradition on the part of the Italian avant-garde, emphasizing instead the exemplary ordering of time and space in traditional art trends, such as the baroque. Only after his return to Milan in 1947 does Fontana translate the demands of the manifesto into the language of painting and sculpture, giving these works the title Concetto Spaziale. With the manifestos of the Spazialismo 1948/49, the Ambiente Nero is produced, which Fontana exhibits in the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan: abstract, undulating forms in glowing colors hover in a space with phosphorescent lights. They are grouped around an elliptical core and make up the preliminary steps toward an environmental genre.
From 1949 the first perforated canvases come about, the so-called Buchi, white paper, later monochrome pictures that are punctured with a paper-punch. Yet Fontana does not see a destruction of the pictures in his method, rather a concrete opening of the pictorial space of the canvas and at the same time, an extension of the picture surface. This conceptual decision is to be understood as a step already toward the de-materialized idea of the work of art, which places thought provocations and perceptual irritations before the material presence of the picture. These works on spatial perception are accompanied from the 50’s onward by the series Pietre, in which colored glass stones are glued to the picture surface producing an irregular mosaic. Fontana continues the analysis of the qualities of pictorial space that has already begun with his Tagli in a drastic manner by making slashes in the canvas. This complex of works also occupies him in the ensuing years (Concetto Spaziale Attese, 1958; Concetto Spaziale Attese, 1965). The addition »Attese« (Expectations) already refers to the space-time dimension, but also to the new revelational character of the canvas perforations.
Reformulations of the perforation concept just described find expression in new combinations of materials in the mid 50’s: Color substances are mixed with pasty dough made of sand called Barocchi and already point to the transition toward a renewed interest in sculpture. In his bronzes called Nature from 1959/60, ball-shaped objects are covered with ragged, gaping cuts and openings that call forth more distinctly notions of organic space and the body. The 38-part cycle from 1963, La fine di Dio, belongs to his last works in which he stretches perforated canvases over egg-shaped frames.
Exhibitions of his works in larger museums first come about toward the end of his life: 1966 in Museum of Modern Art, New York; 1967 in Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum and 1970 posthumously in the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville, in Paris. Fontana’s ideas and works had the greatest influence on generations of artists of the 60’s (Arte Povera, Zero), and his works can be found inalmost all larger museum collections.
Lucio Fontana dies in 1968 in Comabbio near Varese.
Lucio Fontana: Ausst-Kat. Hayward Gallery London, hg. v. Sarah Whitfield, London 1999
Lucio Fontana. Retrospektive: Ausst.-Kat. Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt , hg. v. Thomas M. Messer, Ostfildern-Ruit 1996
Joppolo, G.: Une vie d’artiste. Lucio Fontana, Marseille 1992
Lucio Fontana: Ausst.-Kat. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam u.a., hg. v. Bernard Blistène, Paris 1988
Lucio Fontana: Ausst.-Kat. Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst München, hg. v Carla Schulz-Hoffmann. München 1983