50 Years Since the First Moon Landing: Fontana & the Spatial Concept


Fontana and Space

The United States founded their space research programme NASA in 1957. That event marked the point when the (until then) fantastic idea of space travel was divorced from the arms industry, which had produced the first long-range rockets. As usual, art was way ahead of the rest of society. Lucio Fontana had already written his Manifesto Blanco back in 1946, detailing his vision of a “spatialist” art, in which the use of technology would add a fourth dimension to artistic expression.

Concetto Spaziale Attesa

Eight years after this work was completed, Neil Armstrong and his team would bring their mission to a successful conclusion in front of millions of viewers all around the planet. However, it’s worth wondering if Fontana’s painting hadn’t already given us a golden, iridescent premonition of a close encounter of the third kind.

Photo: Courtesy  Tas Filip.

Photo: Courtesy Tas Filip.

Photo: Nasa.

Photo: Nasa.


What do the Holes Signify?

In his buchi (holes) cycle, which he started working on in 1949, he drew attention to the space behind the picture by forcefully altering the very surface of the canvas. What caused him to perforate his canvases with awls and scalpels? It seems reasonable to presume that Fontana approached his materials with the mindset of a scientist. You’ve seen the same canvas or formulae countless times, and you always arrive at the same conclusion. A dead end. He must have realised that he needed to take a radical step in order to progress. A hole through the surface of the canvas alters its very reason for being as a bearer of paint and meaning as applied to it by the artist. Assaulting the canvas with an awl involves a degree of relinquished control and irreversible definitiveness. Rocket scientists considering the challenges posed by gravity and orbital paths must have thought along similar lines as they made their calculations and plans for the longest journey in human history.

Concetto Spaziale Attesa – The Surface of the Moon?

What does the surface of the moon look like? When Fontana made this painting, nobody really knew for sure. However, the great rival of the US, the Soviet Union, had recently managed to launch their Sputnik satellite into orbit around Earth, and this had caused an enormous loss of prestige for the US. The only way for them to reclaim their lost respect was to orchestrate an actual landing on the moon. Perhaps Fontana was thinking about the surface of the moon, and imagining that it was golden. Until you know for sure, you might as well let your imagination run wild, right? Of course, he knew of the Byzantine masterpieces in Ravenna and other places, where the obvious choice of colour for the heavens was gold.