Lucio Fontana


 Lucio Fontana, son of a Milanese sculptor, was born in Santa Fé, Argentina on February 19th 1899. He died on September 7th 1968 shortly after moving to Comabbio, near Varese.


 In 1905 the family moved to Milan. In 1914 Fontana enrolled at the “Carlo Cattaneo” Technical Institute for land surveyors and received his diploma in 1918, after his military service in the First World War, where he was wounded. In 1922 he followed his father in Argentina and two years later opened a sculpture studio. He returned to Milan and between 1928 and 1930 completed his studies at the Brera Academy where he was a pupil of the twentieth century sculptor Adolfo Wildt.

First personal exhibition

 He held his first personal exhibition in Milan in 1931 at the Milione Gallery. The reductive forms  of his figurative sculptures, partly under the influence of Martini, were symptoms of a new line of research and a growing interest in the European avant-garde. In 1931 he created the first “graffiti tables” in coloured cement, engraved with gestural abstraction rather like the graphic automatism of the surrealists  and a preview of his works of the ‘fifties.  He was close to the abstract artists who gathered around the Milione Gallery and signed the manifesto of the “First collective exhibition of Italian abstract art”, organised in Turin in the studio of Felice Casorati and Enrico Paulucci in 1935. Many of the abstract sculptures of Fontana during this period have been lost or destroyed and subsequently repeated by the artist in the ‘fifties.

Abstract and Figurative

 Although in 1935 he supported the Parisian movement “Abstraction Création” he continued for the entire decade that followed to alternate his works between the abstract and the figurative. From the few public commissions he received during Fascism there remains as witness to this period an allegorical bas-relief  in marble made for the Milan Courts of Justice in 1937. He also took part at the “Corrente” (Current) exhibitions  although he did not share the official position of hostility toward “Novecento” (Twentieth century).


 His experiments with ceramics date back to the ‘thirties. Fontana started to use this material in the studio of Tullio d’Albisola or Giuseppe Mazzotti in Liguria, and working also in the Sévres company in Paris in 1937. The ceramic sculptures, partly influenced by the work of Medardo Rosso and Boccioni were significant for their gestural freedom and plastic expressiveness. Fontana was mentioned by Marinetti in the futurist manifesto of ceramics and air ceramics in 1936. 


"Spatial concept" 1959

"Spatial concept" 1966

"Stones, collage"

"Spatial concept"

"Spatial concept"



 In 1940 the artist sailed for Argentina and during the years of the Second World War continued to work in a figurative style. In 1946, together with Jorge Romero Brest and Jorge Larco  he founded in Buenos Aires the Altamira Academy, which soon became a centre for young artists and intellectuals, and inspired the Manifesto blanco.  Although it was not actually signed by Fontana the document contained the ideas that constituted the theoretical basis of “spatialism”. These theories were further developed  in a series of five manifestos written between  1947 and 1952. After his permanent return to Milan in 1947, research on metaphysical properties and materials of space became the fulcrum of Fontana’s works.


Other materials

 In 1949 he created his first canvases with “holes”, followed in 1959 by “cuts”  At the same time he continued to experiment with his “nature” cycle in terracotta  and metal sculptures. His 1952-53 “spatial concepts”  with coloured stones and glass  underline his continual interest for the physical aspect of the materials and at the same time evoke the infinity of space. Fontana also worked on installations of huge dimensions , starting in 1949 with an exhibition  at the Naviglio Gallery in Milan, where he created a Spatial Environment that significantly preceded the use of neon in art which took place in the ‘sixties. He was interested in designing environments and at the beginning of the ‘fifties Fontana worked together with the architect Luciano Baldissari on the decoration of many exhibition pavilions.


The “end of God”

 During the ‘sixties he produced the series of “end of God” (1963)  – oval monochrome canvases perforated with lots of holes and at times splashed with  sequins, to evoke divinity and at the same time vacuum, and also the “toy theatres”  of 1964, with abstract forms perforated in a theatrical set environment, and also in 1967 elliptical  shapes in lacquered wood punched with holes at regular intervals. In 1966 Fontana received  the Special Award for painting at the Venice Biennial.





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