Pre-conceptualism

It’s hard to know exactly what people get from art; certainly their own testimony has to be taken with skepticism. But I’m contemplating the view that aesthetic pleasures, sensations, satisfactions, feelings—whatever they might be called, however they might be characterized—are dependent on form. Students of aesthetics would likely describe that as a conservative position, but I will qualify it immediately by saying that in the absence of form, or as a consequence of the destruction of form, aesthetic experience of all types tends to depend on ideas. My own work certainly is composed of forms, and I am very interested in pursuing a kind of work that eliminates form and refuses ideas, but that’s for another day. For now I think it’s no accident that Lucio Fontana described himself as a “conceptual artist” long before there was such a thing as conceptual art, or that his most characteristic works were all called “Concetto Spaziale.”

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept 1949

Fontana reduced painting to a level below what the cultivated sensibility of his age expected, entirely in the spirit of Pollock. Perhaps one has to be a certain age to appreciate the baseness and violence of his gestures—and to remember a certain history—but time has transformed that violence into delicacy and refinement, something which has also happened within Pollock’s work. These works have feeling, and it’s not impossible that aesthetic pleasures may be found there, but they are as much if not more spatial concept than spatial experience. Or maybe it’s better to say that they demonstrate the complete

Lucio Fontana in his studio

entanglement of experience and concept, even as familiar aesthetic experiences are on the way out. The “form” of the slash in the canvas is so reduced that even though we can both know and feel the space that breaks through the picture plane, the balance is more toward knowledge and the feeling is fugitive, flickering, weak, quickly subsumed into art history. I realize it may be presumptuous to define or limit how these works appear, or how they feel, but Fontana’s own language supports what I’m saying.

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