As an artist, Lucio Fontana made his mark, literally. The best-known of his "Concetto Spaziale" works — intensely monochrome paintings marked with slashes that look like surgical cuts — are ubiquitous in art and design fairs around the world. The Italian artist, who was born in Argentina in 1899 and died in 1968, is recognized by connoisseurs for his minimalist line. While such a categorization suits the contemporary market, it is a very reductive way of characterizing of his work.
Hence the important contribution of Galerie Karsten Greve's current show in Paris, which places Fontana in a much more classical and complex context. Long associated with the Arte Povera movement, his work also has abstract, Impressionist, and especially Expressionist aspects.
For "Sculptures: Io Sono Uni Scultore e Non un Ceramista" ("I Am a Sculptor and Not a Ceramicist"), the gallery has brought together 37 rarely seen yet revered works dating from 1936 to 1960. Several influences are evident in these works, including the Abstraction-Creation group in Paris, which Fontana joined in 1935, and the Manufacture National in Sèvres, France. Between 1947 and 1952, Fontana led the Spatialist movement, writing manifestos seeking to unite time and space as both conceptual and formal elements. Throughout such intellectual exercises he continued to create figurative sculptures, which, while they seem less iconic or introspective than his better known slashed canvases, remain very personal.
The show begins with its most intimate and evocative piece, "Le Sirene" (1950), a landscape of sea and sun. As if broken into several separate components, the work seems very rough for its theme, but its imperfect and impulsive lines convey movements that evoke waves and rays of sunlight. It immediately introduces Fontana's characteristic style as a sculptor, with his preference for sharp ridges. Each piece exists as a completed movement while mainting an unpolished edge. This technique endows the most stunning sculptures — including the great "Il Guerriero" (1949) — with incredible power.
Fontana's sculptures seem to be the antithesis of his monochrome paintings, as if he took a break from his minimalist philosophy to contemplate religion, history, the raw emotion of life, and the strength of humanity. The influence of Hellenistic and Roman art, as well as the Calvary paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, can be seen in Fontana's almost-abstract "Battaglia" sculptures from 1947-48. At times, these scenes of battles and turmoil possess the grace of dancing figures, but at others they are animated with destructive virility.
A version of this story appeared on ARTINFO France.