Scratching below the surface of Lucio Fontana

Claudia Barbieri Childs on “Lucio Fontana Retrospective”, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, until 24 August

Concetto spaziale (spatial concept), 1962. Photo: courtesy Tornabuoni Art, Paris © Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milano / by SIAE / Adagp, Paris 2014

Lucio Fontana’s “spatial concept” slash paintings are now such a staple in gallery shows and art sales that they seem almost clichéd as an expression of Modern art cutting to the quick, discarding the detritus of culture and history. But the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris’s current survey of the artist proves there is more to Fontana than that.

Raised in a comfortably middle-class Italo-Argentinian family of monumental sculptors, Fontana arrived at the Arte Povera movement via a classical training and forays into primitivism, futurism, abstractionism—and fascism.

The exhibition includes some 200 works and is organised chronologically from the late 1920s to Fontana’s death in 1968. There are touches of Giacometti, Brancusi, Picasso, Matisse. The installation is particularly strong on Fontana’s figurative ceramic work—a chip off the family sculptural block.

The show’s major fault, and it is a large one, is its failure to engage with Fontana’s pre-war embrace of nationalism and fascism. This is addressed in a compendious catalogue, but scarcely visible in the show itself. It is a complex matter, but to ignore it does him a disservice. For a well-considered treatment of it, Martin Gayford’s review of the Hayward Gallery’s 1999 Fontana show can be strongly recommended.

Meanwhile, for would-be collectors, Tornabuoni, a specialist in Arte Povera, is holding a parallel show in its Avenue Matignon Paris gallery space.

Published Mon, 05 May 2014 03:49:00 GMT

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