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Artists Lucio Fontana
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Lucio Fontana

Italian Painter, Sculptor, and Conceptual Artist

Movement: Modern Sculpture

Born: 1899 - Rosario de Santa Fe, Argentina

Died: 1968 - Comabbio, Varese, Italy

Lucio Fontana Timeline


"Matter, color, and sound are the phenomena whose simultaneous development is an integral part of the new art."
Lucio Fontana
"A butterfly in flight stimulates my imagination. By freeing myself from discourse, I lose myself in time and I start making holes."
Lucio Fontana
"We are living in the mechanical age. Painted canvas and standing plaster figures no longer have any reason to exist. What is needed is a change in both essence and form. What is needed is the supercession of painting, sculpture, poetry, and music. It is necessary to have an art that is in greater harmony with the needs of the new spirit."
Lucio Fontana
"My discovery was the hole and that's it. I am happy to go to the grave after such a discovery."
Lucio Fontana
"Sometimes I have the feeling of having thought or done something that goes beyond intelligence, something lunatic or crazy..."
Lucio Fontana
"An earth-bound form occupies a place, if I empty this form I create a space, a form above the earth occupies a place, if I put a hole in it I create a void, I don't conquer space ... A form (and in saying a form it is understood that I mean a sculpture or a painting) occupies a space ... but this is not a means for the conquest of space ... No form can be spatial."
Lucio Fontana
"Art is going to be a completely different thing... Not an object, nor a form... Art is going to become infinite, immensity, immaterial, philosophy... Enough with the bourgeois function of art. Open the doors."
Lucio Fontana

"I do not want to make a painting; I want to open up space, create a new dimension, tie in the cosmos, as it endlessly expands beyond the confining plane of the picture."

Lucio Fontana Signature


The career of artist Lucio Fontana spans some of the most tumultuous decades of the twentieth century, from the build up to World War I to the aftermath of World War II and the onset of the Cold War. Trained initially as a sculptor, Fontana rejected the traditional constraints of particular artistic materials and techniques, choosing instead to invent his own media and methods in response to the rapidly changing world he inhabited. Fontana reinterpreted the physical and theoretical limits of art by considering art works as concepts of space, often using surprising gestures that created holes and cuts in canvases to reveal unseen spatial regions. Fontana embraced paradoxes, destroying physical and intellectual traditions in order to create new discoveries.

Key Ideas

In the wake of WWII, Fontana joined other artists in determining a new form of art that was informed by the rapid technological and scientific advancements of their time. Establishing a new movement called Spatialism, Fontana called for an art that would aptly reflect and respond to the experiences of space and time by unifying them in new ways. In this effort, Fontana broke away from traditional forms of painting and sculpture, making instead what he called concetti spaziale (spatial concepts) that turned objects into three dimensional spaces and turned mundane spaces into experimental environments.
Fontana is known for creating deliberate openings in canvases, allowing the work of art to not only rest upon the surface of the support, but also to encompass the hidden spaces in between and behind the traditional surface image. He created holes, called buchi, and cuts, called tagli, that pierced the canvas materials and exposed the space behind it. These holes and cuts provide an opportunity for the unseen parts of the work to come to the fore and carry meaning.
In addition to works that opened up canvases, Fontana was also interested in building layers on top of canvases to heighten awareness of the broader spaces of the art work. Small pieces of glass and stone were applied to the surface of canvases, inviting the natural effects of light reflection and refraction as equal actors influencing the viewer's perception of the image. Thus expanding the flat canvas, Fontana brought attention to the concept of the void, asking viewers to consider the unmapped parts of the universe and the uncertain quality of the future. Simultaneously, the glass and stone pieces show how we fill such voids, through physical objects we create as well as natural phenomena in our environment.

Most Important Art

Lucio Fontana Famous Art

Figure Nere (Black Figures) (1931)

Figure Nere is an example of Fontana's early ceramic sculpture, featuring a rough-hewn, rectangular terra-cotta slab with two black silhouetted figures, a taller one behind a shorter figure in the front. The surface of the sculpture reveals the artist's hand, with visible marks indicating the development of the form. Fontana recalls the art of earlier civilizations and introduces elements of modern art in this work, harkening back to Ancient Greek black-figure pottery in both style and name while playing with the multiple perspectives that fascinated modern abstract artists, such as the Cubists and Futurists.

The shape of the terra-cotta slab resembles the grave stones and funerary sculpture that Fontana's father had created for his clients, yet Fontana decided to disrupt this resemblance by adding implied depth to the image rather than allowing the flat surface to support similarly flat visual or textual content. By depicting one black human figure seemingly in front of another, with a significant strip of white clay obscuring the left side of the black figure to the right, Fontana reveals a physical gap in space between the two figures, showing the depth of the ambient space as it appears and is experienced in the real world. Even though his early works like Figure Nere are meant to be seen from one, frontal angle, Fontana was already exploring the idea of manipulating the materials to evoke a sensation of physical space in the image.
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Lucio Fontana Artworks in Focus:


Early Life and Training

Lucio Fontana was born in Rosario de Santa Fe, Argentina in 1899 to Lucia Bottini, an Argentinian actress of both Swiss and Italian descent, and Luigi Fontana, an Italian sculptor of commemorative and funerary monuments who had emigrated to Argentina. His parents never married and eventually separated in 1905, when Fontana moved to Italy for schooling, living with relatives in Varese, where his studies included architecture, physics, engineering, math, and the arts. As a young scholar, Fontana was enamored with the Futurists' rejection of older ways of making and seeing art, encouraging art to be of its time rather than to perpetuate the norms of the past that no longer serve the contemporary artist.

Like many Futurists, Fontana volunteered for the Italian army during World War I, serving from 1916 to 1918. He reached the rank of second lieutenant in the infantry regiment and was discharged from service with a silver campaign medal after suffering an arm injury. Although Fontana showed an early attraction to the "action squadrons" of the nascent fascist movement in Italy immediately after the war, he was weary from his war experience and distanced himself from the growing political energy in Italy. He continued his university studies after the war, graduating as a master builder from the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera. Leaving the growing political unrest of Italy and the rest of Europe behind, Fontana and his family returned to Argentina in the early 1920s, when Fontana joined his father's firm, Fontana y Scarbelli, which specialized in graveyard sculptures. However, rather than carry on his father's firm upon his retirement, Fontana decided to open his own sculpture workshop in Rosario in 1924.

Early Career

By the mid-1920s, Fontana had begun to exhibit his sculpture in Argentinian biennials, salons, and group exhibitions, including the VIII Salon de Bellas Artes in 1925. Fontana's competitive spirit guided him to prove himself as "the best sculptor," and not only of the funerary busts he had become known for. Through these exhibition opportunities, Fontana was able to experiment with his aesthetic approaches to sculpture, moving beyond the commercial styles he had completed so far.

Fontana returned to Italy in 1927 to study under the famed sculptor Adolf Wildt at Milan's Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera once more. Wildt's expressive and grandiose style in his marble busts contrasted the measured, realist tendencies in academic art in Italy at the time. In this program, Fontana excelled at carving and was considered his mentor's protégé, inspired by Wildt's dramatic contrasts to experiment with distortions of human representations through shape, color, and material. He received his diploma in 1930, coincidentally the same year that he first participated in the Venice Biennale.

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Lucio Fontana Biography Continues

After this monumental achievement, greater recognition followed, beginning with his participation in a group exhibition at the Galeria del Milione in Milan in 1930, followed by his first solo exhibition at the same gallery in 1931. In his solo show, Fontana revealed his most innovative works to date, displaying sculpture that experimented with abstracted human forms and unexpected materials, such as the layer of tar on a now-lost life-sized sculpture called Homo nero (1930).

Throughout the 1930s, Fontana often entered competitions with monetary prizes, finding a way to make a living when a lucrative career as an artist seemed tentative at best. He also made many sculptural and architectural works for the Fascist regime under Benito Mussolini, including a now-lost bust of Benito Mussolini himself. Fontana's willing acceptance of the government's commissions proved a lasting difficulty for the artist, as his connection to fascism marred his reputation for decades. Even though he was not a fascist, nor particularly political, as Anthony White asserts, Fontana's readiness to complete commissions for private patrons and the fascist state reflects his yearning for public recognition and financial freedom in these years.

Fontana's artistic output from this early period is strikingly conservative in contrast to his later work, although he began experimenting with abstracted forms by the early 1930s. Indeed, in 1935, he participated in one of the earliest known group exhibitions of Italian abstract art, held in Turin, and he was among the artists who signed the "Manifesto for Abstract Art" in the exhibition brochure. Over the course of the next several years, Fontana became known for his experimental, polychromatic ceramic work, earning him the reputation as an "abstract ceramicist," as described by F. T. Marinetti in the 1938 Futurist manifesto, "Ceramica e Aeroceramica (Ceramic and Aeroceramic)." Working alongside other Futurist artists in the small town of Albisola in Italy's Ligurian coastal region, Fontana earned a decent income selling his ceramic sculptures, especially figurines of land and marine animals. In his ceramics, Fontana played with both abstract and figurative subject matter, striking colors and unorthodox processes, finding ways to manipulate the forms to suit aesthetic preferences and his personal fancies.

In 1937, Fontana spent time in Paris, learning techniques from the famous Sevres porcelain workshop and becoming friends with other contemporary artists, including Constantin Brancusi, Tristan Tzara, and Joan Miro. Fontana admired the elegance of Brancusi's sculptures, while being fascinated by the unlimited prospects of abstraction. At the dawn of the Second World War, Fontana left what would become war torn Italy in 1940 at his father's urging. Though Fontana initially resisted leaving, enjoying the financial rewards of his art and the increasing public acknowledgement he was receiving in Italy, Fontana finally joined his father and stepmother back in Argentina. Some have speculated that he wanted to avoid further military service, whereas others believe Fontana wanted to participate in art competitions in Argentina, such as a competition for the "Monument to the Flag" sculpture in Rosario. Though he did not win this particular commission, Fontana pressed on in Argentina. In 1944, he was awarded first prize at the XXXIV Salon Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires for his sculpture, Mujer herida (Injured Woman). The precise and painful realism of this work gained Fontana critical attention, marking a significant shift in his confidence and perception of his place in the artistic community of Argentina.

While Fontana taught at traditional art schools in Argentina, such as the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes 'Manuel Belgrano', he also helped found the more experimental Altamira cultural center. This dichotomy between tradition and experimentation is evident throughout Fontana's early career, undoubtedly influenced by working alongside his father, who died in 1946. In the fall of 1946, together with students from the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, Fontana drafted the "Manifesto Blanco" (White Manifesto). Taking after the Futurists and their manifestos of artistic purpose, the Manifesto Blanco called for a "completed reformation of society through science and art". In 1947, Fontana returned to Europe. Waiting for him in Italy when he arrived was Teresita Rasini, whom Fontana had met before he left for Argentina and had maintained casual contact with while he was away. They would marry, but not until 1952, over two decades after they first met.

Mature Period

Fontana returned to Italy with a renewed sense of artistic purpose: creating a new experience of art that transcended traditional boundaries of media, blending the realms of painting, sculpture, and architecture, and letting the principles of science help redefine the physical existence of works in space. In Milan, he discovered that his studio and his works had been destroyed by the Allied bombing of Italy. As art historian Pia Gottschaller observes, this discovery could have been at once psychologically depressing and liberating. And, the destruction of the city itself led to his work on reconstructing and redecorating the city, beginning a new phase of collaboration with other artists and taking advantage of the chance to work with larger architectural and natural environments. Artists themselves in Milan were divided, as the Communist Party favored realism, pushing abstract artists to form their own ideological stances. For his part, Fontana threw himself in the artistic and cultural debate, encouraging heated conversations between art authorities, such as the critic Giampiero Giani and the art dealer Carlo Cardazzo, among other writers, architects, and visual artists.

Most notably, he embarked upon the formation of Spazialismo (Spatialism) in 1947, formalized with the publication of the "Primo Manifesto dello Spazialismo" (First Spatialist Manifesto). In the manifesto, the artist and co-authors call for a liberation of art from the elements it is made from, choosing to focus on art's meaning beyond the life of its materials. With the "Secondo Manifesto Spaziale," (Second Spatialist Manifesto), from March 1948, the Spatialists emphasized using modern technology to achieve new forms and encouraged artists to be at the forefront of scientific innovation. Fontana pushed the potential of these ideals, challenging himself, other artists, and his viewers to experience space and time beyond the traditional borders of the image's surface and its designated exhibition area. Greatly influenced by Einstein's theories of space-time, Fontana saw the potential for creating "a new dimension of the Infinite" with art, allowing the creative impulse to transcend man's previous understanding of the universe.

In January 1957, Fontana turned from creator to collector after a visit to the Apollinaire Gallery in Milan. It was here that Yves Klein first exhibited his Blue Monochromes. Fontana was one of only two buyers to purchase works from the exhibition, marking the beginning of his friendship with Klein, which benefitted both artists personally and professionally. Fontana was an early admirer and supporter of Klein's work, while Klein helped introduce Fontana to the contemporary art scene by inviting Fontana to visit him in Paris.

Coincidentally, 1957 was also the year that Russia launched "Sputnik" into space. Fontana viewed humanity's journey to space as a piercing of the unknown. Similarly, Fontana sought to mine the infinite possibilities of art. The artist explained his particular inspiration to Carla Lonzi in 1967, asserting that "Now in space there is no longer any measurement...The sense of measurement and of time no longer exists ... and so, here is the void, man is reduced to nothing ... And my art too is all based on this purity[,] on this philosophy of nothing, which is not a destructive nothing, but a creative nothing..."

Late Period

Yves Klein and Lucio Fontana
Yves Klein and Lucio Fontana

Fontana continued working on his Spatialist projects during the 1960s, and he received significant international attention in the last decade of his career. Beyond his previous themes and series, he was unsatisfied with the conventional practice of painting canvases that rest on easels and invited unconventional painting methods into his experiments in Spatialism, including painting canvases on the floor.

Throughout the 1960s, Fontana also began reintroducing evidence of his own hand in his works. He created paintings and sphere-like sculptures with gaping holes in their centers, with thick accumulations of paint and clay built up at the holes' edges, as if they were ripped apart by sheer force. In an interview from 1962, Fontana states that his work of these years "indicates the restlessness of contemporary Man. The subtle tracing...is the walk of Man in space, his dismay and fear of getting lost; the slash...is a sudden cry of pain, the final gesture of anxiety that has already become unbearable". Even as he experimented with new ideas, the powerful lines, holes, and cuts continued to captivate him, signaling possibilities for further exploring the unknown and, at the same time, serving as evidence of the unsettling anticipation he shares with the rest of humankind about the very same unknown space and time.

All the way up to his death of cardiac arrest in 1968, at age sixty-nine, Fontana never stopped exploring the possibilities of dissolving the distinctions between forms and the surrounding space.


Fontana's contributions did not exist in a vacuum, but rather permeated current and future creative experiments in contemporary art in Europe and beyond. During his lifetime, Fontana's abstract works encouraged a younger generation of artists known as the ZERO group, an international cadre of experimental artists, largely based in Germany. The ZERO group sought to diminish the role of the artist in the creative process, focusing instead on the behaviors of the materials and the environmental contexts in which they exist. Like Fontana, these artists viewed features of the physical world, such as light, space, and movement, as key actors in art. Fontana actively supported these younger artists, both philosophically and financially, even purchasing at least one work by the group's cofounders Heinz Mack.

As a friend and fellow artist, the highly innovative Yves Klein was inspired by Fontana's conceptual forays into the "infinite possibilities of the fourth dimension" and his inclusion of natural elements in his art practice. He was encouraged by Fontana's constant pursuit of the unknown, and shared Fontana's belief that art and art making was an adventure and a reflection on the contemporary human spirit rather than a static object or tradition.

Within Italy, Fontana's work was closely associated with the ideology of Arte Povera, or "poor art," an Italian movement marked by its members' use of ordinary materials, first described by the Italian critic Germano Celant in 1967. Rejecting traditional materials and methods, Arte Povera artists used textiles, metals, and organic materials to reference both natural phenomena and human activity in their art. For example, the art of Giovanni Anselmo experiments with the laws of physics and gravity in his sculptures that balance objects between the gallery walls. Just as Fontana's art invited the surrounding space into the realm of the image and even tried to disintegrate the boundary between the art work and its ambient environment, works by Arte Povera artists challenged the borders between the image space and the viewing space, blurring the lines between fine art and the physical world, between artistic materials and unconventional objects.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Lucio Fontana
Interactive chart with Lucio Fontana's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart




Lucio Fontana
Lucio Fontana
Years Worked: mid 1923 - 1968




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Useful Resources on Lucio Fontana





The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Lucio Fontana

Sarah Whitfield
London: Hayward Publishing

Lucio Fontana

Enrico Crispolti
Milano: Electa


Lucio Fontana: The Spatial Concept of Art

Minneapolis: Walker Art Center

Lucio Fontana: Venice/New York

By Luca Massimo Barbero
New York: Guggenheim Museum

More Interesting Books about Lucio Fontana
Drawing With Light, Before Others Did

By Blake Gopnik
The Daily Beast
May 29, 2012

Gallery View; Lucio Fontana: Slashing His Way Toward Infinity

By Michael Kimmelman
The New York Times
April 30, 1989

Lucio Fontana

By Richard Shone
Artforum, February 2000

Art: Works by Fontana, a Stage-Setter, On View

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
December 5, 1986

More Interesting Articles about Lucio Fontana
Lucio Fontana, Autour d'un chef-d'oeuvre retrouve

Tournabuoni Art, Belgium, 1962

Dance for preview of Lucio Fontana's Exhibition

Footage of a dance performance that was performed at the Members’ Preview of 'Lucio Fontana: The Spatial Concept of Art' - Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1966

Lucio Fontana, 'Concetto Spaziale, Atteste' (1965)

Overview of work at auction by Sothebys

Artisti del'900- Lucio Fontana

Overview of Fontana - in Italian

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