A student of Adolfo Wildt at the Brera Fine Arts Academy, Lucio Fontana (Rosario di Santa Fe, 1899-Varese, 1968), at his first solo show held at the Galleria del Milione in Milan in 1930, exhibited Uomo nero, a work that attested to the artist’s new-found interest in abstract-geometric research. In the second half of the 1930s, the artist began to experiment with the use of ceramics, while in the 1940s he also made free-standing sculptures in colored mosaics. After publishing his Manifiesto Blanco in Argentina, and returning to Milan in 1947, Fontana signed the Manifesto dello Spazialismo, which states, as can be evinced in the second version, the need to make “the painting emerge from its frame and the sculpture from its bell jar,” and thus go beyond the traditional languages and instead experiment with the relationship between art and the new technologies. This tension toward a different conception of the work as part of the space around it would lead, in 1949, to the work Ambiente spaziale a luce nera, made from phosphorescent elements suspended from the ceiling of the Milanese gallery Naviglio in a darkened room. The same research strand would lead the artist toward the relationship between the inner and outer space of the work, which he delved into more deeply in the cycle Buchi (1949-1968), pictorial works in which the canvas is pierced by a perforating instrument at first irregularly (“vortex of holes”), and then rhythmically and in an organized manner. The artist’s Olii are dated from the early 1960s; these are torn or perforated canvases, which also include the series dedicated to Venice and shown at the artist’s first exhibition in New York at Martha Jackson Gallery (1961). The American city’s impact on the artist led to his creation of Metalli, slashed and reflecting metal sheets.
Between 1958 and 1968 Fontana realized two cycles of slashes, Concetto spaziale (“Spatial Concept”) and Attesa (“Wait”), in which, like the work in the collection, the single or reiterated slashing of the canvas determines the atemporal nature of the sign, and gives rise to a cross-pollination between the space of the work and its surrounding environment. This new measure of the space of the work, which no longer coincides with the traditional idea of the separateness of the canvas with respect to reality, is further examined in the series Fine di Dio (1963-1964), in which egg-shaped canvases, to which glitter is often added, are cadenced by holes and lacerations, in Teatrini (1964-1966), where figurative elements also appear, and in Ellissi (1967), elliptical panels featuring machine-made holes. In 1966 Fontana garnered the Venice Biennale award with a solo show, where he realized, in collaboration with Carlo Scarpa, a labyrinthine oval environment illuminated by a white light and cadenced by white canvases with a single slash. There are many documents concerning the work relationship between Fontana and the gallerist Lucio Amelio and the organization of the exhibition that was never realized owing to the artist’s death; he had shown in Naples for the first time in 1963, with a solo show at the gallery Il Centro.