Guggenheim

Starting February 17th, 2021, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao presents the installation of Lucio Fontana’s Neon Structure for the Ninth Milan Triennial (Struttura al neon per la IX Triennale di Milano), to remain permanently on view in the Museum’s Atrium for the next three years. This exceptional presentation results from the partnership between the Fondazione Lucio Fontana in Milan and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

Throughout his notable career, Lucio Fontana (b. 1899, Rosario, Argentina – d. 1968, Varese, Italy) turned space into a topic of constant inquiry and meditation, and he addressed it in multiple contexts using a wide range of materials. After ushering in the Spatialist movement and returning to Italy in 1947, Fontana gradually veered towards radical abstraction and experimentation. A pioneer in his use of empty space as a generator and unique component of artworks, Fontana was a key figure in the development of multiple avant-garde groups—including the international group Zero—as well as serving as a touchstone for notable artists from subsequent generations, including Yves Klein, Jorge Oteiza and Jesús Rafael Soto. Despite being world-renowned for his blazing monochrome, cut, and punctured canvases, Fontana always considered himself a sculptor and approached each piece with a complete experience of color and gesture, time, depth, volume, material, and light.

The Neon Structure for the Ninth Milan Triennial can be considered, in this sense, at the same time a drawing, a sculpture, a work of light design and an expressive stroke frozen in space. It is, also, one of the most striking expressions of the convergence of art and technology in the mid-20th century. Made of a surprising material for the aesthetic criteria of its day, the piece arose from a specific commission for the vestibule of the 1951 Milan Triennial. With his spatial neon drawing, Fontana may have been responding to the famous “light drawings” that Pablo Picasso made in conjunction with the photographer Gjon Mili in 1950. Pushing the use of electric light as an unusual and innovative material amidst the traditional media, Fontana suggested a tour de force of the industry’s capacity back in the day by using more than a hundred meters of twisted, chaotic neon. With this, he put into practice one of the proclamations of the Spatialist Manifesto of 1948: “With the resources of modern technology, we shall make appear in the sky artificial forms / amazing rainbows / luminous posters.” The writing of the second of these manifestos by Fontana coincided, in fact, with the creation of his great neon work. The piece surprisingly joined the Baroque aesthetic, which the artist had so fervently admired since his youth, with the technology program of the space age.

Installed in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao’s Atrium, the complexity of Neon Structure for the Ninth Milan Triennial finds an exceptional interlocutor in the building designed by Frank Gehry, whose sketches scrawled on paper are reminiscent of Fontana’s spatial arabesques. Because of its luminosity and sheer size, the impressive neon plays with perspective and distance, intensifying viewers’ experience of the architecture, which is perceptible both inside and outside the Museum. The presentation of this work, in a location of great significance for the coming years, accounts for the relevance of Fontana’s oeuvre in the constellation of Guggenheim Museums, and provides a brilliant corollary to the retrospective exhibition Lucio Fontana. On the Threshold that was held in Bilbao in 2019.

Curator: Manuel Cirauqui

Neon Structure

Time-lapse (fast motion) of the installation of Lucio Fontana’s Neon Structure for the Ninth Milan Triennial in the Atrium of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao