Auto-destruct: Lucio Fontana at Tornabuoni Art

An exhibition space with artwork on display.
The new Tornabuoni Art gallery on London's Albemarle Street opened this week with Lucio Fontana's first London show in a decade
(Image credit: TBC)

‘It’s an elegant space, and Lucio Fontana is an elegant artist,’ said the art critic Edward Lucie-Smith at this week's opening of Tornabuoni Art (opens in new tab), the new Albemarle Street gallery devoted to post-war and Novecento Italian art.

Lucie-Smith sat downstairs, in a room punctured through at either end by white spiral staircases with brass balustrades. The undeniably elegant affair was hosted by gallerist Ursula Casamonti, whose brother Marco renovated the space after the departure of David Linley’s furniture boutique. For the first London showing of the Italian-Argentinian artist in a decade, Casamonti hung Fontana’s late-career canvases at generous intervals, giving her room to lift them off the wall and display the underside, to great effect.

Yet underlying the elegance was a vaguely threatening feeling that you can’t escape in the presence of Fontana’s art. Most of the works here – spanning the period of 1955 until just before the artist’s death in 1968 – have been vigorously slashed through with knives, pierced with tools and even ripped by hand.

They come from a time when Fontana, formerly a sculptor in Milan and Paris, had largely abandoned the practice. After spending the Second World War in Buenos Aires, he returned to a Milan almost completely destroyed by the Allies. His wounded canvases reflect the city’s ruined treasures. In Lucie-Smith’s words, ‘He wanted to disturb with art that was apparently attacked.’

Fontana’s experimentation gave rise to the spatialist movement – a rebuttal of more controlled modernists like Mondrian. Spatialism strived for a new dimension in painting. And the suggestion of a 3D entity beneath the surface is the reason Fontana’s torn canvases are as interesting when pulled off the wall, allowing the light to penetrate the ruptures.

The artist never really abandoned sculpture in the end. He simply gave it a new form and direction. And while he was rebuilding his career in this new Italian avant garde, so was Italy rebuilding itself.

Three canvases on display. A grey canvas in the centre and red on either side.

Gallerist Ursula Casamonti has hung Fontana’s late-career canvases at generous intervals, giving her room to lift them off the wall and display the undersides

(Image credit: TBC)

Pictured is Concetto spaziale, a painting with yellow background and grey shapes.

Underlying the elegance is a vaguely threatening feeling that you can’t escape in the presence of Fontana’s art. Pictured: Concetto spaziale, 1956

(Image credit: TBC)

A red canvas with five knife slices in the centre.

Most of the works here – spanning the period of 1955 until just before the artist’s death in 1968 – have been vigorously slashed through with knives, pierced with tools and even ripped by hand. Pictured: Concetto spaziale, Attese, 1964.

(Image credit: Tornabuoni Art)

An earth coloured tomb shaped object.

His wounded canvases reflect Milan’s ruined treasures, desecrated during the Second World War. These wounds give the work an ominous, threatening aura. Pictured: Concetto spaziale, L'Inferno, 1956.

(Image credit: The Solomon R Guggenheim Museum)

A painting of Concetto spaziale, with a beige canvas and red swirls.

'He wanted to disturb with art that was apparently attacked,' explains art critic Edward Lucie-Smith. Pictured: Concetto spaziale, 1953

(Image credit: TBC)

Concetto spaziale, 1962, a pink/beige painting with a tare in the centre.

It was Fontana's experimentation that pathed the way for the spatialist movement; the suggestion of a 3D entity beneath the surface is the reason his torn canvases are as interesting when pulled off the wall. Pictured: Concetto spaziale, 1962

(Image credit: TBC)

Inside the exhibition with three canvas paintings on a wall and three stone-style seats.

'Lucio Fontana' will be on show until 5 December

(Image credit: TBC)

INFORMATION

'Lucio Fontana' is on view until 5 December

ADDRESS

Tornabuoni Art
46 Albemarle Street
London, W1S 1JN

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