Feature

Lucio Fontana: Ambienti Spaziali

The pioneering Italian abstractionist remains best known for slashing his canvases in order to expand the medium’s parameters.

Gagosian Gallery, New York Through June 30

Lucio Fontana was “the Zorro of painting,” said Andrew Russeth in GalleristNY.com. The pioneering Italian abstractionist (1899–1968) remains best known for slashing at canvases with a knife in order to expand the medium’s parameters. At the Gagosian Gallery’s current Fontana survey, visitors are greeted by Concetto Spaziale, New York 10 (1962), a 9-foot-wide copper panel that’s rent by dramatic vertical gashes. Dozens of other slashed and gouged Fontanas hang in the rooms beyond it. Yet the main attractions aren’t those signature works but six room-size installations, including four that are new to the U.S. These so-called “spatial environments” prefigured the work of conceptual artists to come. They also manifest one of Fontana’s stated ambitions—to create “rainbows of wonder” from the marriage of architecture, sculpture, painting, and every other tool at the artist’s disposal.

This is “just the kind of show that the product-driven art world needs,” said Roberta Smith in The New York Times. The slash paintings currently sell at steep prices, but the Gagosian is presenting Fontana’s environmental art as his ticket to immortality. In the context of his larger career, each tear in his canvases was “a door to another realm,” and the immersive art experiences he created later mark a culmination. The first spatial environment, built in 1949 and re-created here, is a black-lighted room of odd papier-mâché forms that “suggest both docking spaceships and levitating fossils.” Farther on, viewers wander underneath an “immense scribble” of light that reproduces one of the first neon sculptures ever created. Not every installation succeeds, but one of the last, a 1966 work that incorporates three whitewashed canvases, suggests “a joyous, slightly comedic Ascension: painting, pure and white, rising to heaven.”

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