Lucio Fontana

In the midst of WWII, Lucio Fontana asserted that a new form of art was required to capture the drastically new state of the world brought on by the technological boom of the war. In 1946, in his first of six manifestos, he wrote: "The discovery of new physical forces, the mastery of matter and space gradually impose on man conditions which have never existed heretofore in history. The application of these discoveries to all the forms of life produces a modification in the nature of man." Fontana contends that man is forever altered by the technological shifts of the moment and art must reflect this evolution by no longer limiting itself to traditional media and subject matter. "We are abandoning the use of known forms of art and we are initiating the development of an art based on the unity of time and space." It was from this assertion that Fontana’s idea of Spatialism was born. Put simply, Spatialism argues that art must be integrated into the world by affirming its own status as an object as opposed to remaining a 2D plane upon which illusory space can be depicted. As part of his mission to expand the possibilities of art, Fontana not only famously slashed monochrome canvases to expose the hidden dimension behind, but experimented with a wide variety of media, from neon, television and installation to architecture and furniture design. One such work, Anta di mobile bar is made from oil paint applied to glass, a media that Fontana used relatively rarely but to great effect. In this piece, created in 1952–1953, blue, black and gold strokes hurtle across the glass referencing the broad gestures of American Abstract Expressionists popular at the time. Using glass, as opposed to canvas, as a support, Fontana nods to the TV screen, which was proliferating around the world at the time. Anta di mobile bar perfectly embodies Fontana’s idea of Spatialism by linking the corporeal aspect of expressionist painting with the ephemeral idea of the cosmos as typified by the transmission of information from outer space through televisions. 

Glass provided the artist with the ability to construct a variety of art forms that exist outside of the traditional space of fine art and explore the intersection of objects and humanity in an everyday setting. In his Pietre or Stone series, Fontana incorporated pieces of glass on to impasto slashed and pierced monochrome canvases. The glass “stones” were sourced from Murano, a lagoon in Venice that had been the heart of Italian glass blowing since Roman times. By incorporating these glass “stones” on his canvas, Fontana rooted his pieces to the land of Italy itself, creating a historical connection to the generations of Italian craftsmen and artists before him. In addition to this, Fontana collaborated with the Italian designer Osvaldo Borsani to design glass tables. These pieces had a function in the daily life of an individual. By experimenting with glass in this way, Fontana was linking his work to functionality and daily life, inserting his artwork into a discourse and circulation outside of the confines of fine art. Not content to explore the history of glass production and use, Fontana also noted how it was being deployed in the use of televisions. He understood that the glass screen, a plastic, everyday item, was a conduit for signals beamed from outer space. It was both a physical fixed object and a space from which an infinite number of images and ideas could be broadcast. 

By the early 1950s, it became possible for families to watch artists at work in their studios on television sets. The most iconic piece of footage relating to the creation of art in this time was Hans Namuth’s film showing Jackson Pollock painting in his Long Island studio. In order to capture Pollock’s signature strokes, Namuth had him paint on glass for the first time. By placing the camera under the glass, Namuth could capture the physicality of Pollock’s movement. The abstract strokes of Anta di mobile bar certainly owe their origins to Pollock and his heroic gestures (If Fontana did not see the Namuth footage, he would most likely have seen Pollock’s first exhibition in Paris at the Facchetti gallery in March 1952). However, the idea that this supposedly primal process could be captured and transmitted to millions of people around the world (the first transcontinental broadcast from theUnited States occurred in 1951), was what would have most interested Fontana. While Pollock’s paint strokes were indices of a physical activity, the strokes in Anta di mobile bar feel frozen in their movement. Like molecules captured in a scientific slide, these blasts of paint seem to be magnified particles that are part of a larger, perhaps infinite, organism. In essence, Fontana’s strokes speak of capturing, anipulating, and re-transmitting fast moving objects.

In 1952–1953, the years that he created Anta di mobile bar, Fontana made a direct connection between his artwork and television in the Television Manifesto of the Spatial Movement: “For the first time throughout the world, we Spatialists are using television to transmit our new forms of art based on the concepts of space, to be understood from two points of view: the first concerns spaces that were once considered mysterious but that are now known and explored, and that we therefore use as plastic material. The second concerns the still unknown spaces of the cosmos—spaces to which we address ourselves as data of intuition and mystery, the typical data of art as divination.” Here Fontana clearly delineates his interest in using known, everyday, plastic elements to capture the unknown ephemeral space of the cosmos. It was this same year that Fontana worked
with RAI Broadcasting to broadcast a work into the ether, fulfilling his goal of employing new technology to push the
possibilities of art forward.

Like the television, which is a plastic object that has the ability to broadcast endless information through a connection to the cosmos, Anta di mobile bar is a physical art object that transmits a poignant, yet protean concept to the receptive viewer. By employing glass to freeze and examine the make-up of Pollock-esque heroic strokes, Fontana speaks to the constantly shifting topography of artistic expression as well as the long history of fabrication, from the creation of Roman glass in Murano to the modern factories producing televisions. Anta di mobile bar collapses time and space by linking the past to the future and the earth to the cosmos.