Abstract Expressionism

Lucio Fontana and the Venice You Have Never Known

Magda Michalska 20 November 2023 min Read

Even if you haven’t been to Venice, you must be quite familiar with it from millions of picturesque (or picturesque-ish) photos flooding Instagram and Facebook, especially during summertime. You may also spot the city in paintings (if not, here are some examples)… Despite generalizations, Venice, its charm and irresistibility, has more than one facet, as the mind-blowing Spatialist works below suggest.

About Spatialism

lucio fontana and venice, Spatial Concept, San Marco Square with Teresita, 1961, private collection, lucio fontana venice
Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, In piazza San Marco di notte con Teresita (Spatial Concept, San Marco Square with Teresita), 1961, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA.

Lucio Fontana was a founder of the Italian movement of Spatialism, which can be considered a unique exponent of the European Informel painting and an Italian answer to American Abstract Expressionism. He wrote the manifesto of the movement in 1946 in Argentina, and a year later, he produced another one in Milan together with a few fellow artists with the same new vision of art as him that would unite space, time, color, sound, and movement. Using new technology and industrial materials like neon lighting, TV, radio waves, and aluminum, Fontana set off on a journey as he explored gestural painting. The climax of his artistic activity took place when he slashed his monochrome canvas, thus opening its two-dimensional plane onto a palpable and real third dimension and granting the painting’s surface with a quasi-mystical outer space.

lucio fontana and venice, Concetto spaziale: la Luna a Venezia (Spatial Concept: Moon in Venice), 1961, Collezione Intesa Sanpaolo, Gallerie d’Italia, Piazza Scala, Milano, lucio fontana venice
Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, la Luna a Venezia (Spatial Concept, Moon in Venice), 1961, Collezione Intesa Sanpaolo, Gallerie d’Italia, Milan, Italy.

The Moon and The Moon in the Lagoon

Lucio Fontana, Le chiese de Venezia (Churches of Venice), 1961, private collection.
Lucio Fontana, Le chiese de Venezia (Churches of Venice), 1961, private collection. Fondazione Lucio Fontana.

Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, Venice Moon, 1961, Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, La Luna a Venezia, (Spatial Concept, Venice Moon), 1961, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy. Fondazione Lucio Fontana.

Fontana was invited to collaborate in an exhibition alongside artists such as Jean Dubuffet, Mark Rothko, and Sam Francis titled Art and Contemplation. He decided to focus on reimagining the magic of Venice. In an attempt to depict the Venetian sky, the lagoon, and the Baroque whorls and mosaics of Venetian churches, Fontana covered multiple canvases with thick paint, which he subsequently manipulated with his fingers and other tools to make furrows and vortices alluding to the sensual richness of the city. He even scattered bits and pieces of Murano glass on the canvas (see the first photo) to express the luminosity and color of the centuries-old Venetian glassmaking practice.

Golden mosaics and Blue skies

Lucio Fontana, Venice was all gold, 1961, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, Venezia era tutta d’oro (Spatial Concept, Venice was all gold), 1961, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain.

Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, Il cielo di Venezia (Spatial Concept, The Sky of Venice), 1961, Milano, Fondazione Lucio Fontana., lucio fontana venice
Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, Il cielo di Venezia (Spatial Concept, The Sky of Venice), 1961, Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan, Italy.

Fontana’s cycles of works bedazzled not only the Italian public. His glamor also reached American gallerist Martha Jackson, who invited Fontana over to New York. In November 1961, his first US solo exhibition opened with 15 of his artworks. Seeing the city for the first time, Fontana exclaimed: New York is more beautiful than Venice! Inspired again by the urbanscape, he set himself to work and produced another cycle. This time, it was all in metal. As he scratched, pierced, and slashed sheets of copper or aluminum, the unrelenting momentum of that very metropolis took shape: So different. Yet as aspirational as Venice.

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, The Skyscraper of New York, 1962, Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan, lucio fontana venice
Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, New York Grattacielo (Spatial concept, The Skyscraper of New York), 1962, Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milan, Italy.

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