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1. Background

In 1965, Giorgio Kaisserlian gave a talk in Milan on Lucio Fontana that raised the possibility, held to be impossible at the time, of an oil on canvas without a canvas to paint on. Everything, in fact, started from the canvas – the obstacle that needed to be overcome in order to proceed towards infinity; the impediment that needed to be “shattered” in order to arrive at a new artistic dimension, as had already been foreshadowed by Spatialism. As the critic from Milan clarified, the slashed canvas had become body and form of the work of art, beyond the usual way of thinking that saw it as a simple, passive support for the paint, as a “perspectival” surface or two-dimensional precondition upon which the artist organised his or her work.

With Fontana, the painting had been zeroed out: the traditional mentality, tools and activity of the painter needed to be seen as elements of a knowledge that was by then no longer usable. This transition was legitimised by the logic of innovation. While peculiarities proper to painting persisted in some of Fontana’s works, especially the ones most to do with matter, this only served to highlight the sharp difference from everything that was known and used to define painting and sculpture as such. One also needed to avoid misinterpreting Fontana as closely dependent on Duchamp. It needed to be kept in mind, Kaisserlian stressed, that everything started from the “naked canvas”. To go beyond the painting it was necessary to deal directly with the painting: pass through the canvas. Fontana had also torn a glossy sheet of metal. But this was not about working with a ready-made, as it would have been in the case of Duchamp, but rather matter, a final, residual resistance, found in the new space that had opened up after the first fissure, the first “hole”.

Fontana had created a radically new situation, since the old categories and usual artistic means had been surpassed in the dynamic of his innovation – a journey forward that allowed no repetitions. Starting in 1958, with the Attese, all of the painters found themselves without a canvas.

It was no longer possible to paint or be painters, unless one found a way to do so without a canvas – which would have meant being capable of creating an oil on canvas without having a canvas to paint on.

When this happens, Kaisserlian observed in conclusion, we will find ourselves before an event that, while not encroaching on Fontana’s primacy, will unquestionably be seen as an innovation, at least starting from the assumption that artists would no longer be able to create forward-looking art using the traditional painting support.

[...] Painting beyond Flatness

5.2 The Artefact is a painted surface similar to an oil on canvas. The painting, however, precedes the formation of the support.There is no pre-existing area or physical extension upon which to apply the paint. Of course, the transition from the verticality of the painting to the horizontality of the flatbed picture plane enhanced the potential of a new space that established itself as a “solid”, “durable” receptive plane, a “real” field upon which artistic creation is given concrete form (L. Steinberg). But, in the logic of the Artefact, the opposition between verticality and horizontality is totally surpassed. The elimination of the plane implicates the absence of the fundamental form of anchoring that, in practical and, most importantly, mental terms, distinguishes the pictorial work, both in its more traditional forms and those characterised by horizontality.

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