Many people are unaware of Jackson Pollock’s sculptures, which he created throughout his career, using clay, stone, mosaic tiles, bone, cement, and wire. The same also applies to Richard Pousette-Dart, Frederick Kiesler, and Cy Twombly, whose careers found traction during an era when female artists were too frequently overlooked and categorization ranked paramount; when one could be either a painter or a sculptor, an architect or designer. But not both, never all. Today, we are luckily accustomed to artists pursuing their concepts in a range of media (including fashion and design), providing us with the opportunity to re-evaluate well-established artists of the past to explore whether our understanding of their oeuvres mirrors a limited view.
Lucio Fontana. Sculpture marks one such important attempt at challenging preconceived notions of this widely revered Argentine-Italian artist, whose slashed and stabbed monochrome canvases (“Tagli,” or “Slashes”) count as his most prominent achievements. The exhibition is the second installment of a projected trilogy of exhibitions on the artist, following a recent presentation of spatial environments at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles. Like its predecessor, Lucio Fontana: Sculpture draws from holdings of the Fondazione and private collections, and in this case, 34 pieces have never been shown in the US, with 14 presented publicly for the first time.
The exhibition starts with a nod to Fontana’s first New York solo show, which was hosted by Martha Jackson Gallery in this exact same townhouse. Even back in 1961, Fontana had opted against sending some of his Tagli, offering in their stead 10 paintings of Venice, in which collaged chards of glass, thick impasto — and yes, holes and slashes — took center stage. Today, one of these dimensional canvases, “Concetto spaziale, La luna a Venezia” (1961), again greets visitors at the entrance of 32 East 69th Street as a poignant prelude to what ultimately amounts to a symphonic display of material experimentation.
Fontana worked with terra-cotta, clay, wood, plaster, concrete, glass, and metal; he made impartial use of translucence and opacity. He created figurative sculptures but also embraced abstract forms. He frequently pondered what came before and what remained beyond human grasp — mythology and the cosmos. Later, his keen interest in technology prompted him to refer to some of his wall-objects as his “screens.” While his touch could be whimsical or rendered in broad strokes, it always strikes as being so obviously his. Nothing was shaped or glazed by Fontana without his consideration of how light could interact, animate, or even mystify form.
Overall, viewers will find him confirmed as a gifted colorist who, besides frequently using rich earth tones and black and white, also embraced muted and vibrant hues so distinct that they will long stay in one’s memory. I am still thinking of the jaw-dropping slick glazes of two different terra-cotta sculptures: the partially sheer mauve on “Cavalli marini” (1936) and the dark hue on “Fondo marino, Conchiglie” (1944–46), which, depending on one’s vantage point, hovers between blue and squid ink black.
By convincingly illustrating that Fontana’s imagination was even greater than most of us knew, this exhibition serves as an open invitation to his rediscovery.
Lucio Fontana. Sculpture continues at Hauser & Wirth (32 East 69th Street, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through February 4, 2023. The exhibition was curated by Luca Massimo Barbero in collaboration with the Fondazione Lucio Fontana.