Sculptures by Lucio Fontana, Milan Diocesan Museum

The section dedicated to Lucio Fontana consists of the ensemble of two nuclei that have come separately to the Diocesan Museum, intentionally gathered and exhibited as evidence of the artist’s extraordinary sculptural activity in Milan and in the field of sacred art.

In 2000, the plaster casts made by Fontana on the occasion of the competition launched by the same in 1950 for the construction of the fifth door of the Milan Cathedral and the sketch of the Pala della Vergine Assunta, made in 1955, came to the Museum from the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo for the cathedral. To implement the collection of Fontana’s works, the white Via Crucis from 1955 arrived in 2011 at the Museum of the Lombardy Region, conceived by the artist as part of an intervention for the chapel of the Nursery Home Nursery Ada Bolchini Dell’Acqua (Milan, via Cascina Corba).

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.

Born in Rosario, province of Santa Fe, Argentina to Italian immigrant parents, he was the son of the sculptor Luigi Fontana (1865 — 1946). Fontana spent the first years of his life in Argentina and then was sent to Italy in 1905, where he stayed until 1922, working as a sculptor with his father, and then on his own. Already in 1926, he participated in the first exhibition of Nexus, a group of young Argentine artists working in Rosario de Santa Fé.

In 1927 Fontana returned to Italy and studied under the sculptor Adolfo Wildt, at Accademia di Brera from 1928 to 1930. It was there he presented his first exhibition in 1930, organized by the Milan art gallery Il Milione. During the following decade he journeyed in Italy and France, working with abstract and expressionist painters. In 1935 he joined the association Abstraction-Création in Paris and from 1936 to 1949 made expressionist sculptures in ceramic and bronze. In 1939, he joined the Corrente, a Milan group of expressionist artists.

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.

On the ground floor, an entire section of the museum is dedicated to sculptural works by Lucio Fontana. Among them stand out, in addition to the preparatory plasters of the fifth door of the Cathedral of Milan and of the Pala della Vergine Assunta, the fourteen stations of the Via Crucis (Via Crucis bianca, 1955), in storage at the Museum by the Lombardy Region.

Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo receives the offerings from the Gesso people, 98 x 169 x 45 cm
The work is part of the group of five plaster casts, which arrived at the Museum in 2000 from the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, made on the occasion of the competition held in 1950 by the Veneranda Fabbrica for the construction of the fifth door of the cathedral. The theme of the competition, Origins and Events from the cathedral, was chosen by the same archbishop of Milan, Blessed Card. Ildefonso Schuster. In 1951 the artist participated in the first degree of the competition by presenting a model of the door that stood out for its inventive and compositional originality. The extreme formal synthesis with which the twelve episodes followed and the resection of the bodies of the Lombard popes used as an architrave did not satisfy the Commission which invited the artist to participate in the second degree of the competition by making some formal and compositional changes. In 1952 Fontana won the first prize ex aequowith Luciano Minguzzi but, in the following years, tired of the long uncertainties of the Commission, he abandoned the project. In the plaster in question, the scene is symmetrically divided into two parts: on the left is the Archbishop together with another personage, perhaps Duke Giangaleazzo, while on the right we find a group of figures representing the community of faithful who offers the offerings for the construction of the Cathedral

Altarpiece of the Assumption Virgin, cm 320 x 180 x 50
The sketch of the altarpiece of the Assumption Virginit was created by Lucio Fontana in 1955 following the competition launched in November 1950 by the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo in conjunction with the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary by Pope Pius XII. The work, conceived as an altarpiece, was intended for a minor nave of the cathedral. The altarpiece, designed in marble and remained at the stage of the sketch, centrally represents on a wavy background the figure of the Assumption Virgin of monumental dimensions, at the foot of which there is a smaller predella depicting an intense Pietà. From the unitary composition of the Assumption and Piety, a solution provided by Fontana from the outset, derives the contrast between the disruptive extroversion of the former and the intimate recollection of the latter. The work came to the museum from the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo in 2000, together with the plaster casts for the fifth door of the Milan Cathedral.

Via Crucis “white” Glazed ceramic, 14 octagonal tiles, 41.5 x 21 x 10 cm each
Conceived as part of an intervention for the chapel of the Nursery Home Nursery Ada Bolchini Dell’Acqua (Milan, via Cascina Corba), the white Via Crucis is the result of the collaboration between Marco Zanuso, who designed the building between 1953 and 1954, and Lucio Fontana, who conceived an ad hoc decorationfor the chapel space according to the principle of conceptual unity between the sculptural decoration and the environment. The work is composed of fourteen octagonal glazed white ceramic tiles, briefly engraved and marked by intense chromatic hints, closely connected to the narrative drama. In the fourteen stations are recorded the scenes of the condemnation of Jesus and the ascent to Calvary summarized in a few narrative elements. The figures stand out isolated on a smooth and glossy bottom surface briefly engraved with clean cuts. Based on the analysis of the history of the Maternal Home and the stylistic data, the work refers to 1955. Acquired in 2010 by the Lombardy Region, the ” white” Via Crucis arrived in the Museum in 2011.

Diocesan Museum of Milan
The Diocesan Museum of Milan was born in 2001 on the initiative of the Archdiocese of Milan with the aim of protecting, enhancing and making known the artistic treasures of the diocese in the context of the spiritual context that inspired them. From the following year it is the scene of the initiative A masterpiece for Milan.

The Diocesan Museum is located in the setting of the cloisters of Sant”Eustorgio, integral part of one of the most antique monumental complexes of Milan, built from the joined units of the basilica and the Dominican convent, a thriving centre in the course of the centuries in an important area for the history of Milanese Christianity.

The permanent collection is constituted of over seven hundred works of art that span the period going from the 4th to the 21st century. Within the Archbishop”s Painting Gallery are the collections from the Milanese archbishops (part of the Monti, Visconti, Riccardi collection and the complete collection of Erba Odescalchi). In addition to the paintings coming from the churches of the Diocese, the Museum houses an important group of works of liturgical furnishing. Completing the collection is the section dedicated to Gold Leaf panel paintings (works primarily from the sphere of Tuscany of the 14th and 15th centuries, collected by Prof. Alberto Crespi and donated to the Museum), and sculptures and paintings coming from the collection of Caterina Marcenaro. Lastly, around a first nucleus of sculpted works by Lucio Fontana, there are many works from the 20th and 21st centuries, which declare a growing interest that the Museum has for contemporary works of art.