Two Important Series to Be United in the First Major Exhibition of Fontana's Work in the U.S. since 1977
Exhibition Title: Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York
Venue: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, New York
Dates: October 10, 2006-January 21, 2007
The museum thanks the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its patronage, as well as the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations for its support.
Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) was born in Rosario de Santa Fé, Argentina. His father was Italian and his mother Argentinean. He lived in Milan from 1905 to 1922 and then moved back to Argentina, where he worked as a sculptor in his father's studio for several years before opening his own. In 1926, he participated in the first exhibition of Nexus, a group of young Argentinean artists working in Rosario de Santa Fé. Upon his return to Milan in 1928, Fontana enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, which he attended for two years.
The Galleria Il Milione, Milan, organized Fontana's first solo exhibition in 1930. In 1934, he joined the group of abstract Italian sculptors associated with Galleria Il Milione. The artist traveled to Paris in 1935 and joined the Abstraction-Création group. The same year, he developed his skills in ceramics in Albisola, Italy, and later at the Sèvres factory, near Paris. In 1939, he joined the Corrente, a Milan group of expressionist artists. He also intensified his lifelong collaboration with architects during this period.
In 1940, Fontana moved to Buenos Aires. With some of his students, he founded the Academia de Altamira in 1946, from which the Manifiesto Blanco group emerged. He moved back to Milan in 1947 and in collaboration with a group of writers and philosophers signed the Primo manifesto dello spazialismo . He subsequently resumed his ceramic work in Albisola to explore these new ideas with his Concetti spaziali .
The year 1949 marked a turning point in Fontana's career; he concurrently created the Buchi , his first series of paintings in which he punctured the canvas, and his first spatial environment, a combination of shapeless sculptures, fluorescent paintings, and black lights to be viewed in a dark room. The latter work soon led him to employ neon tubing in ceiling decoration. In the early 1950s, he participated in the Italian Art Informel exhibitions. During this decade, he explored working with various effects, such as slashing and perforating, in both painting and sculpture.
The 1960s were a period of soaring international recognition for the artist Fontana. His early works in neon, his monochrome canvases from the 1940s and '50s, which anticipated the Minimalists by several decades, and his environmental installations were acclaimed by a new generation of artists, including Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, and the Nouveau Réaliste group, who considered Fontana the father of contemporary art.
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 in an exhibition of contemporary painting entitled Art and Contemplation , held at Palazzo Grassi in Venice, he created a series of works dedicated to the lagoon city. The square canvases, whose surfaces shimmer in silver and gold, recall the baroque curves of churches, the movement of water under moonlight, the precious mosaics of St. Mark's, and the entire city's rich, Byzantine splendor. With their thickly layered paint, punctured surfaces, and glass inserts, these works were rapturously received by public and critics alike.
Fontana was invited to exhibit the works at the Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, in November of the same year. Arriving in New York for the first time, he was immediately enthralled and began work on a second series dedicated to the American city. Preliminary drawings and paintings were developed into a series of extraordinary works in metal. These 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. They are works of powerful impact, seductive in their tormented surfaces, rich in metallic reverberations that suggest the electric tension of New York City.
The exhibition catalogue includes essays by leading scholars of Fontana's oeuvre, including Enrico Crispolti (author of the Fontana catalogue raisonné), Paolo Campiglio, and Barbara Ferriani, as well as curator Luca Massimo Barbero.