Lucio Fontana Retrospective: 20th Century Visionary in Paris


The Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris presents Lucio Fontana: Retrospective until August 24, 2014. One of the most influential 20th century visionaries, Lucio Fontana’s experimentation with tangible space became a landmark in the history of abstract art. His artistic vision guided numerous artists including Piero Manzoni and Julio Le Parc, who regarded him as the predecessor of contemporary art.

The Paris retrospective highlights over 200 works including paintings, ceramics, sculptures and installations that impart an overview of Fontana’s nonconforming approach and ever-changing styles. The show follows his early experiments with abstraction and includes works from the 1920s to 1968, the year of Fontana’s death.

Born in Argentina, Fontana was the son of an Italian-born sculptor and an Italian theater actress. Splitting his time between Argentina and Milan, Lucio Fontana exploited all the possibilities offered by sculpture including ceramic, mosaic and terracotta. He collaborated extensively with architects, and he was one of the first Italian abstract painters in the 1930s.

Educated in Italy, he fought in World War I before returning to Argentina in 1922.  After undertaking various odd jobs, Fontana moved back to Milan in 1927 where he studied sculpture at the Accademia di Brera under the sculptor, Adolfo Wildt.  In 1934, he joined a group of abstract sculptors associated with the Galleria del Milione in Milan where he previously had his first solo abstract sculpture exhibit, a painted plaster figure, Uomo Nero (Black Man).

From Uomo Nero, Fontana begins his exploration in figurative sculpting which shifted into abstract sculpturing – geometric shapes supported on slender wire stems in plaster. Successively, Fontana experimented with mosaic sculpting.

During World War II, Fontana sought refuge in Argentina, where he co-founded the Altamira Academy and collaborated on the first “White Manifesto” that introduced the new art concept, Spazialismo or Spatialism. Breaking away from his training in classical techniques, the movement dealt with a fourth-dimension in art through methodically disregarding traditional painting boundaries.


Fontana moved back to Milan in 1947 where he became the leading figure of the Spatialist movement as defined in his Manifestos. Light and tangible spaces were the two essential elements of this particular movement. He intended to create a new art, alluding to the Space Age, but actively connected to the world around it.

In 1949, the artist began to slash and puncture his canvases. His first painting, Concetti Spaziali (spatial concepts), was a series of “surgically” slashed monochromatic canvases, collectively known as the Tagli or cuts. The works were not meant as an act of destruction, but instead they were created with the intent to free Fontana as an artist from the “traditional confines of the picture.” The holes, called buchi, had an order, and the punctures along the canvas’ surface were delicate, “like traces of sand” and never expressionistic. Taken as a whole series, these works are Fontana’s most extensive and varied paintings, and have come to be seen as exemplary of “gestural aesthetic.”

He continued to explore space through and beyond the canvas, in order to permit himself the choice to create art by “whatever means and in whatever form.” Up until the late 50s and early 60s, his paintings were made in accordance with this theory of Spatialism.

The Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris  retrospective features the diversity of Lucio Fontana’s work from abstraction and figurations, metaphysical quest and manifestations, conceptual and baroque. It also outlines the development of the artist’s theory of Spatialism that started with one singular, tentative slit to more decisive slashes, and delves into his lesser known works, including his ceramics. In 1968, Lucio Fontana stated in an interview that his discovery was a hole, nothing more, and he was “happy to go to the grave after such a discovery.”

By: Dawn Levesque

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art
Fondazione Lucio Fontana
Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
Tate Museum