The strongest visual device in Spatial Concept is a wide, irregular oval of rough holes, their broken rims poking outward as if some force in the hidden darkness behind the picture plane were struggling to break through. Scratches of black ink, most of them short and bristle-like, scatter in ﬂurries across the surface; the lighter lines and whorls are abrasions scored in the thick paper, ridged scars that compensate for their relative faintness with their violence. The works in Fontana’s Spatial Concepts series—the ﬁrst of which dates from 1949—have a physical concreteness that is in tune with the anti-idealist mood prevalent in Europe after World War II.
Fontana felt that advances in science demanded parallel innovations in art, which, he declared, should reach out into its surroundings—it should exist not in two dimensions but in space. Sculpture, being three-dimensional, did this necessarily, as did the kind of environmental installation that Fontana explored early on and which has since become its own genre of art. Painting, though, demanded radical surgery: the rupturing of the picture’s ﬂatness. Canvas or paper is the literal foundation for a picture, the stage on which all of its events must play themselves out. To puncture this plane is a daring, even shocking act for a painter. Spatial Concept clearly conveys the considerable psychological nerve Fontana’s gesture required.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Inspired by Futurism, Fontana sought to escape the “prison” of the flat picture surface to explore movement, time, and space. In 1949 he first developed his Spatial Concepts, puncturing and piercing the surfaces of sheets of paper to reach behind and beyond the illusionistic plane into what he called “a free space.” In the late 1950s Fontana began to slash linear cuts into stretched canvases; shedding its materiality, line became coextensive with infinite space.
Gallery label from On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century, November 21, 2010-February 7, 2011.