Sotheby's To Sell Rediscovered Masterwork By Lucio Fontana - Concetto spaziale, 1961

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Sotheby's To Sell Rediscovered Masterwork By Lucio Fontana - Concetto spaziale, 1961
Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) Concetto spaziale of 1961. Estimated at £5-7 million ($7,650,000-10,700,000). © Sotheby’s London.

LONDON.- Sotheby’s announced that it will offer for sale the recently rediscovered, museum-quality painting Concetto spaziale of 1961, by Italy’s foremost Contemporary artist Lucio Fontana** (1899-1968). From the artist’s celebrated Venezia Series, Concetto spaziale is completely fresh to the market and has been hidden from public view for almost 50 years. The oil on canvas will be included in the London Contemporary Art Evening auction on Thursday, February 5, 2009 and is estimated at £5-7 million ($7,650,000-10,700,000).

Commenting on this masterwork, Cheyenne Westphal, Chairman Contemporary Art Europe and Oliver Barker, Senior International Specialist, Contemporary Art, said: “We are thrilled to be offering for sale such a remarkable work by Italy’s most important Contemporary artist, Lucio Fontana, from his most sought after series. Concetto spaziale is not only stunningly beautiful, it is one of the most prized works from his entire output and testament to the artist's genius and tireless innovation. The painting is one of the most successfully conceived and executed paintings in the Venezia cycle and its sale will provide collectors with the unparalleled opportunity to acquire a masterpiece of 20th-century European abstract painting.”

Concetto spaziale, which was acquired directly from the artist in the 1960s, has resided in the same private collection for over 45 years and the compelling appeal of this museum-quality work is that it has been unseen virtually since its creation. In the three generations of Enrico Crispolti's catalogue raisonné for Fontana's oeuvre, Concetto Spaziale features as a legendary enigma among the Venezia cycle, the same black and white photograph that reappeared in each of the 1974, 1986 and 2006 editions. The painting has not been seen in public since it was exhibited in the 1960s and the re-emergence of this outstanding work on the market represents an historic event in the exhibition of Fontana's art and a milestone for the scholarship of his work.

This sublime painting, which belongs to Fontana’s extremely rare and very short Venezia cycle of 22 paintings from 1961, each in this unusually large square format, measuring 150 by 150 cm (59 by 59 inches), was inspired by and dedicated to Venice. In this series, the artist sought to capture the city’s intoxicating beauty, its transcendental atmosphere and its unique marriage of architecture and water in an abstract language consistent with his evolving conceptual project known as Spatialism. Fontana was invited to contribute to the Arte e Contemplazione exhibition at the Centro Internazionale delle Arti e del Costume of the Palazzo Grassi (owned by the entrepreneur and patron Paolo Marinotti) and painted the 22 one and-a-half metre square paintings dedicated to Venice in the first half of 1961. After 11 of the works were shown at the Palazzo Grassi, the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York then staged Ten Paintings of Venice in November and December - comprising seven works from the Venice show with three additions - which achieved astounding critical acclaim.

Unlike earlier works, in Concetto spaziale Fontana smothers the canvas in layers of thick oil paint, using his hands and fingers like a sculptor to inscribe fluid gestures on the surface. The shimmering gold paint, which features in only seven of the Venezia paintings, recalls both the opulent gold mosaic ceilings of Saint Mark’s Basilica and the winged golden lion of the Venetian flag. The abstract composition is also evocative of a topographical view of the Venetian Lagoon.

In the glossy cream paint, Fontana’s finger traces the waters swirling around the islets and the trajectories of gondolas circumnavigating the canals. The lyrical pattern of holes – or buchi – offers a glimpse into the infinite space of the void beyond the two-dimensional picture. This constellation of holes reminds us of the artist’s fascination with space and the unexplored expanse of the universe. Paintings from Fontana’s famed Venezia series are housed in the collections of the Ludwig Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection and the Lucio Fontana Foundation, and are frequently included in major international exhibitions as well as being the inspiration for considerable art historical scholarship.

Concetto Spaziale will be on view to the public from Wednesday, January 28 until Wednesday, February 2, 2009, throughout the pre-sale exhibition for woks in Sotheby’s London upcoming auctions of Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art.

Sotheby’s set the auction record for a work by Lucio Fontana when Concetto spaziale, la fine di dio (waterpaint, oil and glitter on canvas) sold in the London Contemporary Art Evening Sale in February 2008 for £10,324,500 (US$20,051,466).

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