Room of Lucio Fontana, Museum of the Twentieth Century

The top floor of the museum is devoted entirely to Lucio Fontana. The Fontana Hall was designed as an environmental immersion work. The protagonists are the landmark Ceiling from 1956, initially created for the dining room of the Hotel del Golfo on the Island of Elba and granted by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities; the Neon owned by the Fondazione Fontana; and the Spatial Concepts from the 1950’s.

Lucio Fontana (19 February 1899 – 7 September 1968) was an Argentine-Italian painter, sculptor and theorist. He is mostly known as the founder of Spatialism.

Son of the Italian sculptor Luigi Fontana (1865 – 1946) and of an Argentine mother, he began his artistic activity in 1921 working in the sculpture workshop of his father and colleague and friend of his father Giovanni Scarabelli. He then became a follower of Adolfo Wildt. Since 1949by breaking the canvas with holes and cuts, he overcomes the traditional distinction between painting and sculpture. The space ceases to be the object of representation according to the conventional rules of perspective. The surface of the canvas itself, interrupting itself in reliefs and recesses, enters into a direct relationship with the real space and light. At the end of the 1940s, he collaborated with Fontana Arte in the creation of ceramic bases for tables and coffee tables (based on the design of the architect Roberto Menghi), and with the Borsani company .

Lucio was born from a relationship between Lucia Bottini, daughter of the Swiss engraver Jean and who will later marry Juan Pablo Maroni, and the father Luigi who will keep his son with him and later marry Anita Campiglio, always considered by Fontana to be a real mother. The Fontana family was quite comfortable, so the young Lucio was sent to Italy to study first in important colleges and then to the Carlo Cattaneo Technical Institute and to the Brera artistic high school. In 1917 he volunteered to join the army. In 1921, having obtained the diploma of building expert, he returned to Argentina. In 1924, after working with his father, he opened his studio in Rosario abandoning the realistic style of his father and instead looking at the cubist ways ofAleksandr Archipenko as in Nude (1926) and in La mujer y la balde (1927). In the first work we note influences of Archipenko and secessionism, while in the second work we note the lesson of Aristide Maillol.

In 1927 he returned to Milan and enrolled at the Brera Academy and graduated in 1930. He was influenced by his professor Adolfo Wildt.

He will say in 1963 “I had a great teacher as guide: Wildt, I was considered the best student of the course. Indeed, Wildt had expressed to me several times that I became a continuator of his art. Instead, as soon as I left the Academy, I took a mass of plaster, gave her an approximately figurative structure of a seated man and threw tar on her. So for a violent reaction. Wildt complained, and what could I tell him? I had great respect for him, I was grateful to him, but I was interested in finding a new path, a path that was all mine. ” One of the most important works of Fontana’s first period was born: The Black Man(1930- now lost). Recalling works by Archipenko and Zadkine, he seeks a return to the origins of form. The black tar and the almost formless mass are in contrast with the recovery of the Roman and Etruscan forms of Arturo Martini and Marino Marini. Together with Renato Birolli and Aligi Sassu he considers expressionism an alternative to the fashion of the twentieth century as in the Olympic champion (or pending champion) (1932).

He also creates numerous ceramics with bright colors. He knows the Milanese architectural avant-garde: Figini and Pollini and the BBPR group, that is: Belgioioso, Banfi, Peressutti, Rogers. He acquired the lesson of Le Corbusier. The proximity to the architecture is clearly visible in the monument to Giuseppe Grandi (The great sculptor of the Lombard “Scapigliatura”) unfortunately never made (1931) and designed together with his cousin architect Bruno Fontana and the engineer Alcide Rizzardi. The project includes an inverted cone and crystals. Note the derivation from constructivist and rationalist works: see Melnikov (Columbus Lighthouse 1929) and Tatlin (monument to the III International). In the 1930s Fontana was always in the balance between expressionist figuration and the rarefaction of form and two-dimensionality. See Il fiocinatore (1934) or Abstract sculpture (1934).

In 1937 he went to Paris for the Universal Exposition. He knows Tristan Tzara and Costantin Brancusi and sees the works of Picasso. Visit the Sèvres ceramic workshops and make new ceramics. From 1940 to 1947 he lived in Argentina and together with other abstract artists he wrote Il manifiesto blanco: A change in essence and form is required. It requires the overcoming of painting, sculpture, poetry and music. Greater art is needed according to the needs of the new spirit.

In 1940 he returned to Argentina. In Buenos Aires (1946) he founded the Altamira academy together with some of his students, and made public the White Manifesto, where it is stated that “Matter, colour and sound in motion are the phenomena whose simultaneous development makes up the new art”. In the text, which Fontana did not sign but to which he actively contributed, he began to formulate the theories that he was to expand as Spazialismo, or Spatialism, in five manifestos from 1947 to 1952. Upon his return from Argentina in 1947, he supported, along with writers and philosophers, the first manifesto of spatialism (Spazialismo)**. Fontana had found his studio and works completely destroyed in the Allied bombings of Milan, but soon resumed his ceramics works in Albisola. In Milan, he collaborated with noted Milanese architects to decorate several new buildings that were part of the effort to reconstruct the city after the war.

Following his return to Italy in 1948 Fontana exhibited his first Ambiente spaziale a luce nera (‘Spatial environment’) (1949) at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan, a temporary installation consisting of a giant amoeba-like shape suspended in the void in a darkened room and lit by neon light. From 1949 on he started the so-called Spatial Concept or slash series, consisting in holes or slashes on the surface of monochrome paintings, drawing a sign of what he named “an art for the Space Age”. He devised the generic title Concetto spaziale (‘spatial concept’) for these works and used it for almost all his later paintings. These can be divided into broad categories: the Buchi (‘holes), beginning in 1949, and the Tagli (‘slashes’), which he instituted in the mid-1950s.

Fontana often lined the reverse of his canvases with black gauze so that the darkness would shimmer behind the open cuts and create a mysterious sense of illusion and depth. He then created an elaborate neon ceiling called “Luce spaziale” in 1951 for the Triennale in Milan. In his important series of Concetto spaziale, La Fine di Dio (1963–64), Fontana uses the egg shape. With his Pietre (stones) series, begun in 1952, Fontana fused the sculptural with painting by encrusting the surfaces of his canvases with heavy impasto and colored glass. In his Buchi (holes) cycle, begun in 1949–50, he punctured the surface of his canvases, breaking the membrane of two-dimensionality in order to highlight the space behind the picture. From 1958 he purified his paintings by creating matte, monochrome surfaces, thus focusing the viewer’s attention on the slices that rend the skin of the canvas. In 1959 Fontana exhibited cut-off paintings with multiple combinable elements (he named the sets quanta), and began Nature, a series of sculptures made by cutting a gash across a sphere of terracotta clay, which he subsequently cast in bronze.

Fontana engaged in many collaborative projects with the most important architects of the day, in particular with Luciano Baldessari, who shared and supported his research for Spatial Light – Structure in Neon (1951) at the 9th Triennale and, among other things, commissioned him to design the ceiling of the cinema in the Sidercomit Pavilion at the 21st Milan Fair in 1953.

Around 1960, Fontana began to reinvent the cuts and punctures that had characterized his highly personal style up to that point, covering canvases with layers of thick oil paint applied by hand and brush and using a scalpel or Stanley knife to create great fissures in their surface. In 1961, following an invitation to participate along with artists Jean Dubuffet, Mark Rothko, Sam Francis, and others in an exhibition of contemporary painting entitled “Art and Contemplation”, held at Palazzo Grassi in Venice, he created a series of 22 works dedicated to the lagoon city. He manipulated the paint with his fingers and various instruments to make furrows, sometimes including scattered fragments of Murano glass. Fontana was subsequently invited by Michel Tapié to exhibit the works at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York. As a consequence of his first visit to New York in 1961, he created a series of metal works, done between 1961 and 1965. The works consisted of large sheets of shiny and scratched copper, pierced and gouged, cut through by dramatic vertical gestures that recall the force of New York construction and the metal and glass of the buildings.

Among Fontana’s last works are a series of Teatrini (“little theatres”), in which he returned to an essentially flat idiom by using backcloths enclosed within wings resembling a frame; the reference to theatre emphasizes the act of looking, while in the foreground a series of irregular spheres or oscillating, wavy silhouettes creates a lively shadow play. Another work from that time, Trinità (Trinity) (1966), consists of three large white canvases punctuated by lines of holes, embraced in a theatrical setting made from ultramarine plastic sheets vaguely resembling wings.

In the last years of his career, Fontana became increasingly interested in the staging of his work in the many exhibitions that honored him worldwide, as well as in the idea of purity achieved in his last white canvases. These concerns were prominent at the 1966 Venice Biennale, for which he designed the environment for his work. At Documenta IV in Kassel in 1968, he positioned a large, plaster slash as the centre of a totally white labyrinth, including ceiling and floor (Ambiente spaziale bianco).

Shortly before his death he was present at the “Destruction Art, Destroy to Create” demonstration at the Finch College Museum of New York. Then he left his home in Milano and went to Comabbio (in the province of Varese, Italy), his family’s mother town, where he died in 1968.

Fontana created a prolific amount of graphic work with abstract motifs as well as figures, little-known in the art world, at the same time as he was producing his abstract perforated works. He was also the sculptor of the bust of Ovidio Lagos, founder of the La Capital newspaper, in Carrara marble.

Fontana had his first solo exhibitions at Galleria del Milione, Milan, in 1931. In 1961, Michel Tapié organized his first show in the U.S., an exhibition of the Venice series, at the Martha Jackson Gallery, New York. His first solo exhibition at an American museum was held at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, in 1966. He participated in the Bienal de São Paulo and in numerous exhibitions around the world. Among others, major retrospectives have been organized by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (2006), Hayward Gallery, London (1999), Fondazione Lucio Fontana (1999), and the Centre Georges Pompidou (1987; traveled to La Fundación ‘la Caixa’ Barcelona; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Whitechapel Gallery, London). Since 1930 Fontana’s work had been exhibited regularly at the Venice Biennale, and he represented Argentina various times; he was awarded the Grand Prize for Painting at the Venice Biennale of 1966. In 2014, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris dedicates a retrospective to the artist. Tornabuoni art held a parallel show in its Avenue Matignon Paris gallery space.

Fontana’s works can be found in the permanent collections of more than one hundred museums around the world. In particular, examples from the Pietre series are housed in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome, the Museum of Contemporary Art Villa Croce in Genoa and the van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven. Fontana’s jewelry is included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Art market
Italian scholar Enrico Crispolti edited a two-volume catalogue raisonné of Fontana’s paintings, sculptures and environments in 2006. In 2013, Luca Massimo Barbero, Nina Ardemagni Laurini and Silvia Ardemagni published a three-volume catalogue raisonné of Fontana’s works on paper, including more than 5,500 works in chronological order.

A rare, large crimson work with a single slash, which Fontana dedicated to his wife and which has always been known as the Teresita, fetched £6.7 million ($11.6 million) at Christie’s London in 2008, then an auction record for the artist. Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale, Attese (1965), from the collection of Anna-Stina Malmborg Hoglund and Gunnar Hoglund set a new record for a slash painting at £8.4 million at Sotheby’s London in 2015. Even more popular are Fontana’s oval canvases. Sotheby’s sold a work titled Concetto spaziale, la fine di dio (1963) for £10.32 million in 2008. Part of Fontana’s Venice circle, Festival on the Grand Canal was sold at Christie’s in New York for $7 million in 2008.

The Exhibition
Born in Argentina, Lucio Fontana lived in Milan from the 1920s onwards, setting up his studio there. Over the course of his artistic career, Lucio Fontana created a rich variety of works ranging from ceramic carvings to paintings and from sculptures to spatial environments.

The Twenties and Thirties
In the Twenties, his work – still of a figurative nature at the time – revolved around the creation of sculptures for private clients (“Busto femminile” [Female bust], 1931). These works were therefore rather small, although he did also tackle more complex and experimental pieces in this period, participating in public competitions with works such as “Signorina Seduta” (Young Woman Seated, 1934).

Busto femminile (1931)
Signorina seduta (1934)

Spatial environments
His intense collaboration with architects during the interwar years had a critical and formative influence on the artist, leading him to begin designing “spatial environments” following World War II. Examples include “Struttura al Neon” (Structure in Neon), inaugurated for the 9th Milan Triennale in 1951, and “Soffitto Spaziale” (Spatial Ceiling) for the Hotel del Golfo in Procchio in 1956.

Struttura al neon per la IX Triennale di Milano (1951)

Concetti spaziali
In his famous “Concetti spaziali” (Spatial Concepts), monochrome canvases on which the artist made a series of holes and clean cuts, Fontana opened up to an infinite spatial dimension, going beyond the limits of a traditional painting.

Concetto spaziale, Attesa (1960)
Concetto spaziale (1956)
Concetto spaziale, La bara del marinaio (1957)
Concetto spaziale (La notte) (1956)
Concetto spaziale, Attese (1959)

Museum of the twentieth century in Milan
The Museo del Novecento in Milan is a permanent exhibition of 20th century works of art housed in the Palazzo dell’Arengario and the adjacent Royal Palace in Milan. The museum absorbed the collections of the previous Civic Museum of Contemporary Art (CIMAC) which was located on the second floor of the Royal Palace and which was closed in 1998.

The Museo del Novecento, located inside the Palazzo dell’Arengario in Piazza del Duomo, hosts a collection of over four thousand works that catalyze the development of 20th century Italian art.

The Museo del Novecento was established on 6 December 2010 with the goal of spreading knowledge of 20th century art and offering a more comprehensive insight into the collections that the city of Milan has inherited over time. Beside its core exhibition activity, the Museum is active in the conservation, investigation and promotion of 20th century Italian cultural and artistic heritage with the final aim of reaching an ever wider audience.

Apart from a single room housing works by foreign artists including Braque, Kandinsky, Klee, Léger, Matisse, Mondrian and Picasso, the majority of the works exhibited in the museum are by Italian artists. A major section is devoted to the Italian Futurists, with works by Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Fortunato Depero, Luigi Russolo, Gino Severini, Mario Sironi and Ardengo Soffici. Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo’s large canvas Il Quarto Stato (1902) is also exhibited in a room on its own.

Other sections of the museum are dedicated to individual artists such as Giorgio de Chirico, Lucio Fontana and Morandi. There are also sections devoted to art movements of the twentieth century, including Abstractionism, Arte Povera, the Novecento Italiano, Post-Impressionism and Realism, and to genres such as landscape and monumental art.