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Italian sculptor Lucio Fontana was born in 1899 in Rosario di Santa Fe, Argentina. He was first introduced to sculpture by his father, who produced commemorative and funerary pieces.
Fontana joined the army in 1917, but left in 1918 after suffering an injury. At the end of the war, he studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, Milan, before returning to Argentina, where he produced some of his first sculptures. During this period, Fontana collaborated with avant-garde architects, experimenting with materials including porcelain, ceramic, terracotta, bronze, reinforced concrete and glass, amongst others. Fontana returned to Italy in 1928 and, after exploring a variety of materials, developed a refined, pure style. Two years later, he would become a founding member of the Italian Abstractionists group. The artist’s first solo exhibition was held in 1930 at Milanese gallery Il Milione.
Between 1939 and 1945, Fontana sought refuge in Buenos Aires, launching an “artistic protest” against the war. His style continued to develop, becoming particularly distinct following the end of the Second World War. In 1946, working with a group of young artists and intellectuals, Fontana contributed to the Manifesto Blanco. Considered to be the first manifesto for the Spatialist movement, the work would go on to influence a number of Abstract artists.
The artist’s pieces are now viewed as major examples of Spatialism. Other distinct elements of Fontana’s work include his insistence upon the importance of titles — given to each of his pieces, and a particular interest in the relationship between art and the sacred. Fontana’s work lay the foundations for a new artistic movement, based around notions of time and space. This, the artist stated, consisted of turning one’s back on the use of “known” artistic forms, creating, instead, a form of art based on the “unity of time and space.” From 1949, Fontana became known for his Buchi (holes) series, which saw the artist pierce his canvas in a precise gesture — an act which might formerly have been considered artist sacrilege. Describing his work, the artist said: ”I make a hole in the canvas in order to leave behind me the old pictorial formulae, the painting and the traditional view of art as I escape symbolically, but also materially, from the prison of the flat surface.”
Fontana’s vocabulary of cracks, tears, and holes, led the artist to produce series including Tagli (incisions) and, later, the celebrated monochromatic series Concette Spaziale. At the end of the 1950s, the artist produced Nature, a series of terracotta spheres punctured by rifts, which were subsequently cast in bronze. Later, the artist produced Ambiente spaziale bianco. Created using white light; these pieces were exhibited at events including the 34th Venice Biennale, and at Kassel’s documenta.
Fontana died in 1968, in Varese, Italy. His works form part of collections at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome.
The artist has been the subject of the greatest number of exhibitions in Italy, his country of birth, followed by Germany and the United States. Institutions to have held the greatest number of Fontana exhibitions are Sperone Westwater Gallery (United States), Galleria d’Arte 2000 & Novecento (Italy), ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe (Germany), MoMA — Museum of Modern Art (United States), and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Spain).
In group shows, the artist has been most frequently exhibited alongside Piero Manzoni, Yves Klein, Andy Warhol, Jannis Kounellis, and Pablo Picasso. His work has been primarily presented in museums, as part of group exhibitions. The number of articles published on the subject on Fontana has seen a significant rise since the end of the 1990s.
At auction, works by Fontana have realised total sales of $642 million, with an average price in excess of $186,000.
Amongst those works to have achieved the most significant prices at auction, the record was realised in November 2013 at Christie’s New York for the canvas Concetto Spaziale, La fine di Dio (1963), which sold for $18.5 million, hammer price. Following behind this is Concetto spaziale, La fine di Dio, a watercolour piece which sold for $18.127 million, hammer price, at Sotheby’s London in February 2008. In October 2008, the canvas Concetto Spaziale, La fine di Dio (1963) reached $13.8 million, hammer price, at Christie’s London.
Each of Fontana’s chosen production media have been represented at auction; however the greatest portion of his total sales has been realised by paintings. Though the latter represent only 34% of total lots offered at auction, they have accounted for 88% of his total sales. 1217 paintings have sold for an average price of almost $464,000. 382 sculptures by the artist have been sold for an average price of $79,000, representing 5% of Fontana’s total sales. Ceramics, which represent 13% of lots proposed at auction, have sold for an average price of $60,000. Almost 800 drawings by the artist have been sold, with an average price of just over $21,000. Almost 600 editions have been sold at auction, at an average cost of $4,000.
The number of lots offered at auction has seen a steady increase over the course of the last twenty years, with the average cost of works by the artist showing the same tendency.
The majority of auctions to have featured Fontana’s works have been held in his home country of Italy. The greatest portion of his total overall sales, however, has been realised in the United Kingdom, which accounts for 2/3 of his total sales. Auctions of the artist’s works have been held at a number of houses, though the majority of transactions by value have taken place at major British and American auction houses: Sotheby’s has accounted for 47% of the artist’s sales by value, whilst Christie’s is responsible for 39%.
The unsold rate for works by Lucio Fontana remains relatively low at 21%, when compared to works of the same price by other artists.
A chronological analysis of the popularity of the artist’s works at public auction demonstrates a slight increase in Fontana’s unsold rate over the course of the last fifteen years — a trend which might be explained by the increase in the number of lots presented.
The majority of pieces presented at auction focus on a short period of the artist’s production, having mostly been produced between the 1950s and 1960s.