The ZERO group was initiated in April 1957 with a series of exhibitions around the studios of Heinz Mack and Otto Piene in Düsseldorf. It went on to become one of the most significant collaborative movements of Post War art and eventually incorporated the work of Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, and Günther Uecker among others. In addition to inexpensive studio space and the renowned Academy, artists were drawn to Düsseldorf by the gallery of Albert Schmela, which opened in May 1957 with an exhibition of Klein’s Monochromes and played a pivotal role in the development of ZERO art. While Klein was included in the seventh ZERO exhibition in April 1958, Fontana and Manzoni contributed to the eighth show the following month. Indeed, ZERO brought together protagonists of pioneering contemporary artistic movements from across Europe, including Nouveau réalisme and Arte Povera. The ideology of the ZERO group was voiced through its own eponymous magazine, which was published between 1958 and 1961 and included influential texts by Piene, Mack and Klein.
Born in Rosario, province of Santa Fe, Argentina of Italian parents,Fontana spent the first years of his life in Italy and came back to Argentina in 1905, where he stayed until 1922, working as a sculptor along with his father, and then on his own.
In 1927 he returned to Italy and studied under the sculptor Adolfo Wildt, and there he presented his first exhibition in 1930, organized by the Milano art gallery Il Milione. During the following decade he journeyed Italy and France, working with abstract and expressionist painters. In 1935 he joined the association Abstraction-Création in Paris and from 1936 to 1949 made expressionnist sculptures in ceramic and bronze.
In 1940 he returned to Argentina. In Buenos Aires (1946) he founded the Altamira academy together with some of his students, and made public the White Manifesto, where he states that “Matter, colour and sound in motion are the phenomena whose simultaneous development makes up the new art”. Back in Milano in 1947, he supported, along with writers and philosophers, the first manifesto of spatialism (Spazialismo)**. He also resumed his ceramics works in Albisola.
From 1949 on he started the so-called Spatial Concept or slash series, consisting in holes or slashes on the surface of monochrome paintings, drawing a sign of what he named “an art for the Space Age”. In 1948 Fontana experimented the use of neon with “Ambiente spaziale a luce nera” (Galleria del Naviglio, Milan). He then created an elaborate neon ceiling called “Luce spaziale” in 1951 for the Triennale in Milan. In 1959 he exhibited cut-off paintings with multiple combinable elements (he named the sets quanta). He participated in the Bienal de São Paulo and in numerous exhibitions in Europe (including London and Paris) and Asia, as well as New York.
Shortly before his death he was present at the “Destruction Art, Destroy to Create” demonstration at the Finch College Museum of New York. Then he left his home in Milano and went to Comabbio (in the province of Varese, Italy), his family’s mother town, where he died in 1968.
Fontana’s works can be found in the permanent collections of more than one hundred museums around the world. He was the sculptor of the bust of Ovidio Lagos, founder of the La Capital newspaper, in Carrara marble.