Concetto spaziale, Attese (Spatial Concept: Expectations)
Once he broke the surface of the canvas with his buchi series, Fontana's experiment with more pronounced punctures on the picture plane continued. His new gesture of slicing through the canvas material gave a new series of works begun in 1958 the name tagli (cuts). This medium-sized work (measuring 40 x 32 inches) is a warm, ochre-toned monochromatic plane, sliced by one of these signature tagli, which created a dynamic vertical, slightly right-leaning diagonal line down the center of the canvas. With the tagli, Fontana abandoned any effort to provide additional ornamentation on top of the canvas, as he did with buchi works. The cut itself would serve as the concept, the process, and the product all in one, creating a new image out of both the desire to break apart assumed barriers and the gesture to open up new visible and invisible spaces.
The works in the tagli cycle, were given unique subtitles that depended on the number of cuts present in the canvases. For works with only one cut, the subtitle was attesa, the Italian word meaning expectation or anticipation. With this label, Fontana draws attention to the ongoing possibilities that lie in the unknown future, as well as man's perception of time as a psychological experience as much as a physical one. By 1960, Fontana restricted the number of tagli to between one and five after initial experimentations with several cuts running across the material's surface.
The bold monochrome colors of the tagli works resemble the abstract monochrome canvases of Fontana's contemporaries, such as Yves Klein and his signature blue monochrome paintings. Mocking the seriousness that accompanied expressive, colorful abstract painting in the post-war years, Klein ironically challenged viewers to find deeper meanings and nuanced differences in canvases that were complete monochromes in identical shades of Klein's own individual color: International Klein Blue. As a close friend of Klein, Fontana shared this rejection of the dominant tendencies, although Fontana is not considered to be the unorthodox, satirical imp of abstraction as Klein was. In Fontana's tagli paintings, the monochrome gave the slices center stage, as opposed to Klein's monochrome, which celebrated the color on its own and the genius the artist claimed in its simplicity.
The tension between presence and absence in the tagli canvases forces the artist and viewers alike to rethink common assumptions about the creative process, allowing a seemingly destructive gesture to be a constructive moment, as it creates a new region for art to exist by breaking apart another. Moving away from the creative gesture that directly stemmed from the physical, inspired movements of the artist's hands, Fontana's cuts are products of a sharp knife that minimize the trace of the artist's body and mind. The repeated cuts appear almost machine made, insisting on the productive quality of modern mechanisms rather than the timeless value of the artist himself. With an economy of means, Fontana asserts his fascination with the technologies that increasingly dominated modern life in the post-war years.
Slashed canvas and gauze - Museum of Modern Art, New York