Museum  May 19, 2023  Chandra Noyes

How Lucio Fontana's Slashed Canvases Changed Art History

Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan © 2019 Fondazione Lucio Fontana/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, Expectations, 1959. Oil on canvas with slashes. Olnick Spanu Collection, New York.

By ripping through his canvases, Lucio Fontana changed what a painting could be, and the course of art history. His groundbreaking slashed paintings, called Cuts (Tagli) embodied Spatialism, Fontana’s art movement that was meant to create a new kind of art synthesizing color, sound, space, and movement. Before his Spatialist manifestos and slashed paintings, Fontana was a sculptor, and in a 2019 exhibition at the Met Breuer, they explored the Argentine-Italian artist’s early work in a retrospective, Lucio Fontana: On the Threshold.

We took a look back at the exhibition that charted Fontana's groundbreaking practice, see more below.

© 2019 Fondazione Lucio Fontana/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome

Lucio Fontana, Battle (Battaglia), 1947. Glazed ceramic. Private Collection.

Examining four decades of sculptures, ceramics, paintings, drawings, and environments made between 1931 and 1968,  On the Threshold shows that Fontana’s interest in making art a dynamic, immersive experience was present throughout his career, and that he found a variety of ways to express this concept. 

“Fontana radically expanded the picture plane into a third dimension. His groundbreaking approach represents a seismic moment for 20th- century art, transforming paintings, sculptures, and objects into new concepts of space and experimental environments,” said Max Hollein, Director of The Met. “A witness to the historical, cultural, and technological developments that defined the postwar period, his work reflects the influence of a wide range of styles from art history and an irreverence towards hierarchies and conventions.”

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, The Quanta, 1959
© 2019 Fondazione Lucio Fontana/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, The Quanta, 1959. Water-based paint on canvas with slashes, 6 parts, dimensions variable. Private collection, Italy.

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, The Bread (Concetto Spaziale, Il Pane), 1950
© 2019 Fondazione Lucio Fontana/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, The Bread (Concetto Spaziale, Il Pane), 1950. Terracota. Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan.

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, The End of God (Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio), 1964
© 2019 Fondazione Lucio Fontana/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, The End of God (Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio), 1964. Oil on canvas, cuts, holes. Rachofsky Collection, Dallas.

Born in Argentina to Italian immigrants, Fontana (1899–1968) was one of the first artists to embrace the idea that the creative act, rather than solely the resulting object, was a work of art. In his lifetime he exhibited with contemporary Abstract Expressionists, and his environment installations, three of which have been reconstructed for this exhibition, are seen as precursors to Environmental art. While much of contemporary art is experiential, Fontana's blending of sculpture with traditional, two-dimensional painting and elements of performative acts was revolutionary during his time, and his impact can still be seen today.

Lucio Fontana: On the Threshold was on view at the Met Breuer in Spring 2019.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is the former Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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