Yves Klein Lucio Fontana: Milano Parigi 1957-1962

On the occasion of the exhibition at Milan’s Museo del Novecento, we publish Lucio Fontana’s extraordinary words on the question of space in art: a theme tackled by Fontana via holes in the canvas, by Klein with his blue dimension, and by Manzoni through his lines, with which he even “surpassed the Americans”.

Sotterraneo dello studio di Lucio Fontana
This article was originally published in Domus 984 / October 2014

“You see, unfortunately I am an explorer. Today’s youth are living through a period of crisis but also of evolution. We lived in a period of fruitful exploration, because we had fine artists behind us. We cannot disown de Chirico, Sironi, Campigli or Morandi, who perhaps aren’t modern painters, but are still part of a  tradition.

My research was conducted  backwards really, starting from the 1946 White Manifesto in which I said, “We are continuing the evolution of art through the medium.” This is the basis; it is a formula. I could have left it at that, because saying “through the medium” is like creating art today with plastic or light. But instead it was the intuition that art was no longer to be done with brushes or painting canvases or frescos. I really meant that art had a new dimension. Not dimensions in the sense of one, two or three planes. I see dimension as a body of ideas.

Of course, all that may seem old hat now but some of it still applies. We said, “We will use television to transmit forms through  space,” and I still believe that, because  television is still an uncomplicated medium. But I don’t want them to ask me now – as they have done – to build a 300-metre-high tower block. I refused… but even if it were 20,000 metres. What would it be? A Tower of Babel, the conquest of space?

We have already conquered the heavens, and a satellite transmits figures  through space from America to European television. So it’s pointless to tell me to build a 1,000-metre-high tower-block. What will I have done? I will have constructed something that is still attached to the ground… If I have made any good discovery, it is the “hole”. When I was cutting a hole as a gesture, people didn’t realise that those who drive screws, insert bulbs or make little mechanised works, as they do today, are making a gestural hole to do so.

Yves Klein, ex voto dedicato a Santa Rita da Cascia, 1961
Top: the cellar of Lucio Fontana’s studio with the “large and mysterious terracotta forms”, exhibited in March 1961 at Milan’s Galleria del Grattacielo. The forms are grouped with his “new plastic paintings (i.e. not painted with oil, but with a new plastic substance)”. From Domus 379, June 1961 Above: Yves Klein, ex-voto dedicated to Saint Rita of Cascia, 1961. Dry pigment, gold leaves, gold bars and manuscript in a plexiglass box, 14 x 21 x 3,2 cm. © Yves Klein, ADAGP, Paris, 2014

The hole was outside the dimension of the canvas. A free conception of art! It was a formula, like one + one = two. I didn’t make holes to wreck the picture – no – I made a hole to find  something… I’m sorry for speaking like this; I can say it now because, after all, they were my ideas but they were never understood. They said, “The canvas, he’s destroying it, it’s informal”… But it isn’t true. So, we have the first man who made a sign on the ground and he is the artist; then came the Assyrians and the Egyptians and they created the second dimension, the profile, etc.; then we come to the third dimension which is perspective, Paolo Uccello, first, second, third plane, base, height, etc. The universe. The unknown dimension…

To break free from this formula, from this framework, from  this concept of art, I make a hole in  the canvas and I emerge – ideally – from the slavery of this plane. Pollock – to give you an example – did his things after the spatialists – I say the spatialists not me – after Crippa had done his calligraphic spirals. Crippa’s spirals from 1950 are extremely important. Pollock threw some colour on a canvas; he sought a new spatial dimension but he was doing post- impressionism. He wanted to break  free of the canvas, but actually he was throwing colour onto it.

I don’t believe anyone has come close to Manzoni’s line yet – as a concept  of art driven by social motivation – because it really is infinity

Klein was another one who understood  the space problem with his blue dimension. He really was abstract and one of the young people who did something big. Manzoni with his “lines” was another one who was ahead of the Americans. Despite everything they’re doing now, the Americans still haven’t caught up with Manzoni. We have superior genes to the Americans but we don’t make  them count. They still haven’t got to Manzoni’s line; it will take them another 100 years!

The “hole” is free space and way ahead of Pollock. He did his pictures in 1952-53, but we did ours in 1949, without sculptures or anything else. I didn’t invent anything; the futurists handfed me – time and space, etc. – I don’t deny it. My ceiling-mounted neon works really were luminous sculptures; they weren’t light. Now they say I made a lamp, but why? If I called it a “spatial concept”, why do they have to call it a lamp or a hole, etc? Who knows why. It’s a phenomenon I can’t understand. I used specific words: spatial concept. Who dreamt of calling a picture a “spatial concept” at that time? It was an object and, really, it preceded the objects of today…

All these things, today, are developed in a perfect form but also a decadent one… I don’t believe anyone has come close to Manzoni’s line yet – as a concept  of art driven by social motivation – because it really is infinity. We arrive at these things slowly, by going back to the insertion as I did. Yes, because I took giant steps backwards to recover. To pass from holes to slashes; I had decadent periods and I didn’t improve because the hole and the slash are the same thing. There’s another accusation regarding my rapport with baroque.

In 1932 I was a member of Art et Création, and I did free, non-geometric abstraction. Then I did the gilded figure, which was slightly baroque… but baroque in the sense of a form that has broken away from the classical. I tried to break the material with colour because what annoyed me was the slavery of the material, something Boccioni had already suggested to me. I also had tremendous discussions with Brancusi who was a genius, whereas I was young. He said that what I did was not sculpture. I said, “I know, that’s all right, but I’m not looking for volume.” In his works, the light breaks on a perfect form and hones it; whereas Boccioni saw the material as an excuse to receive light; the material came second, it was the light that played and, you see, there was already space, light, an outside force. The bases were there.

Copertina Domus 466; copertina Yves Klein di Pierre Restany
Left: Domus 466, September 1968, in which the article reproduced here A Conversation with Fontana by Tommaso Trini, was originally published. Right: Cover of the book by Pierre Restany, Yves Klein e la mistica di Santa Rita da Cascia, Editoriale Domus, 1981
In art – as in futurism, etc. – it is a social and not just a figurative revolution. It is a revolution of thought… the evolution of art is an inner, philosophical matter; it is not figurative. This is what is good about the futurists and the cubists…  Manzoni’s line is pure philosophy and no philosopher today has such a perfect idea. Today’s literature has fallen far behind… I get really mad when I see the literature of Moravia or Pasolini, or Fellini’s films! Because, truly, painting has said things that today’s literature hasn’t understood yet; art has created a far bigger fracture. Le Parc’s game – in which light creates rays and destroys form  – is key because it allows the man in the street to discover that art is no longer a fresco or a canvas on a wall. So, he thinks and develops his thought until he understands whether art will still have a raison d’être if it has completed its function.
Art is a human creation, not a physical fact like eating or sleeping. It is a creation that may even come to an end at some time. It may be surpassed by other sciences. Art is simply thought in evolution and, if human thought evolves to a dimension such that art becomes mere fact, that will be the end of art. It is like the drawings in the caves of Altamira: hats off to them! But nowadays comic strips have thousands of horses seen in perspective or side on. Those drawings embody 20,000 years of civilisation; they represent an  accumulated body of science. Art can become so superficial that it turns  out to be surpassed, if not to say repudiated. The EURATOM centre is near here and it’s a joy to talk to those scientists and biologists… Do you know how far advanced biology is? They want to create life… you know, they say that but it makes me shudder.
Art is a human creation, not a physical fact like eating or sleeping. It is a creation that may even come to an end at some time. It may be surpassed by other sciences
I called this last formula I produced the “Pill” because I’m  always taking things as a joke. But the pill has already caused more deaths than an atomic war. Think how many thousands of women take it and how many thousands of beings aren’t born. Instead of erecting a monument to Glory or the Victory of Samothrace, I made this egg with a slash that is a monument to the pill, which socially speaking is as important today as the victory of Samothrace, as a war won or lost. I don’t believe there will always be artists. It isn’t true. Can’t you see that the artist has changed?
We were born into a world where people talk about art but they won’t be talking about art in 500 years’ time. They’ll be discussing other problems, and art will be like going today to gawp at the two stones put together by the first caveman. We talk about things that humans  have done on Earth, but ask yourself  whether people will still have time to create art while travelling through the universe. Today’s young people are still bound to the Earth, but humans have to break free from the Earth. As I believe in human intelligence – and it’s all I believe in – I’m convinced that the humans of the future will have a totally new world.”     
© all rights reserved

until 15 March 2015
Klein Fontana – Milano Parigi 1957-1962
curated by:
Sivia Bignami, Giorgio Zanchetti
Museo del Novecento
Piazza Duomo, Milan

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