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Many Dimensions: Lucio Fontana at The Met

Pioneering Argentine-Italian artist Lucio Fontana takes the spotlight in a major new survey on display at The Met Breuer and The Met Fifth Avenue

The Argentine-Italian artist Lucio Fontana (1899–1968) gained international renown for his extreme abstractions—in particular his Cuts series of the 1960s, in which he daringly created works of austere beauty through the radical, transgressive act of slashing a bare canvas. Yet the artist was almost in his sixth decade when he turned to this stripped-down mode, having up to that point enjoyed a diverse, bi-continental career as a sculptor.

The exhibition galleries at The Met Breuer, with Seated Young Lady (1934; painted bronze; Museo del Novecento, Milan) in the foreground.

 

A major new survey at The Met will help North American audiences understand Fontana’s artistic journey, putting into context his career as an an aesthetic “juggler” (in the words of Emily Braun, from her essay in the exhibition catalogue).

Medusa. Lucio Fontana (Italian, 1899–1968). Glazed ceramic, 15-3/4 H., 1940. Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, Buenos Aires

 

In a career that spanned Milan, Paris, and Buenos Aires, Fontana became associated with—and influenced by—important movements in the artistic avant-garde. In the 1930s, during stints in Albisola, Italy, and Sèvres, France, he honed his skills as a ceramicist. Developing connections with avant-garde architects, Fontana also gave careful thought to the way his artistic creations occupied space.

Exterior of Spatial Environment in Red Light (Ambiente Spaziale a Luce Rossa). Lucio Fontana (Italian, 1899–1968). Painted wood, glass tubes, neon, and mixed media; 1967/2019. Reconstruction authorized by Fondazione Lucio Fontana–project Pirelli HangarBicocca 2017

 

The publication of the White Manifesto in 1946 proved a seminal point in his career. “I do not want to make a painting; I want to open up space, create a new dimension, tie in the cosmos, as it endlessly expands beyond the confining plane of the picture,” he said of his work. From there, it was a short journey toward his first experiments with buchi (or holes), whose voids punctuated the surfaces of his canvases—literally opening up new possibilities of expression.

Spatial Concept. Lucio Fontana (Italian, 1899–1968). Pencil and water-based paint on canvas with holes, 27-15/16 x 23-5/8 in., 1949. Private collection, courtesy Neal Meltzer Fine Art, New York

Spatial Concept. Lucio Fontana (Italian, 1899–1968). Glazed ceramic, H. 11-1/16 in.; 1964–65. Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan

 

Fontana’s famous Cuts series served as a culmination of his practice, a stripping down of the surfaces and textures he had explored over decades to a minimal yet emotionally heightened aesthetic worldview. By the end of his career a distinguished, globetrotting éminence grise of the art world, he paved the way for artistic innovations—and ruptures—to come. On the occasion of this important exhibition, his explorations prove how art can pack a punch across intersecting planes.

Spatial Concept, Expectations. Lucio Fontana (Italian, 1899–1968). Water-based paint on canvas with slashes, originally with painted wood frame, 45-1/4 x 57-1/2 in., 1965. Private collection, New York

Spatial Concept, New York 10. Lucio Fontana (Italian, 1899–1968). Copper with slashes and scratches, 3 panels 37 x 92-1/8 in. each, 1962. Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan

 

Lucio Fontana: On the Threshold is on view at The Met Breuer and The Met Fifth Avenue through April 14. Shop the exhibition catalogue at store.metmuseum.org.

 

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