A pioneer of light-art, installation and canvas-as-object, Lucio Fontana influenced art and thought with his “spatialist” concepts throughout postwar Europe and the Americas (he divided his time between Italy and Argentina). His practice of slashing or puncturing a monochrome canvas — a violation of the picture plane and a radical reduction of composition — opened up artists’ minds to the extrapictorial possibilities of their chosen media. In effect, Fontana demonstrated that the space around an artwork is part of the artwork. This exhibition is fairly modest, confined as it is to smaller works, but it includes pieces from all periods, so it provides a lucid picture of the artist’s development. Viewing the work opens up Fontana’s mind as well as hand to scrutiny, and his achievement becomes even more tantalizing almost a half-century after his death.
Leon Polk Smith was another trailblazer of a sort, determining a post–abstract expressionist “hard edge” geometric art as far back as, well, the heyday of ab ex. Usually compared to Ellsworth Kelly, Smith was actually closer in sensibility to West Coast abstract classicists in his vivid, almost vertiginous color combinations, simple but eccentric forms and even more eccentric canvas shapes. In these large paintings Smith sends repeated forms and nonrepeating colors across shaped canvases that also repeat, but not contiguously with the painted shapes. The work rocks and rolls, optically and nearly literally. Fontana at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, 1023 Hilgard Ave., Wstwd.; Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; thru May 25. (310) 443-3250. Smith at Louis Stern Fine Art, 9002 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd.; Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; thru ?May 26. (310) 276-0147.
Lucio Fontana's spatialist concepts are on view at the Instituto Italiano di Cultura.