In 1954, Fontana designed Concetto spaziale (Spatial Concept), the first of four fabrics conceived for Manifattura Jsa. Textile empresario Luigi Grampa founded Jsa, in 1949, in Busto Arsizio, a town near Varese known for its cotton production. While the factory remained in business until 1979, their most active and fruitful years came during the 1950s, when, thanks to Domus founder Gio Ponti, they were heavily involved in the Milan Triennali and frequently advertised in Domus and Casabella.
Concetto spaziale, which reproduces one of Fontana's eponymous artworks, depicts a series of irregular, concentric spirals composed of, and interrupted by, a trompe l'oeil of pierced holes ending in tapered shadows, the effect resulting from directional lighting at the upper left in the textile's photographic source. Screen-printed on a lush cotton sateen, the design is repeated twice across the width. The title, artist's name, color registration marks, and Jsa's logo are embedded within the design's edge rather than printed on the selvedge.
In January 1955, Domus published its issue inaugurating the X Triennale (1954). On the cover floats a detail of Concetto spaziale on a yellow ground, folded to reveal a second version on a white ground. Decontextualized, Fontana's buchi (holes), enhanced by chiaroscuro, evoke an infinitesimal, extraterrestrial space. His design is futuristic, both for its pockmarked lunar texture suggesting the postwar preoccupation with the universe and the imminent space race, a theme he explored literally in another Jsa textile, Galassia (1955), and for its reinterpretation of the dynamism of the early modernist movement led by Marinetti, which had been an important influence on Fontana's Manifiesto blanco, published in 1946.
Fontana's foray into textiles is emblematic of two central concerns of Italian design at this time: the desire to create a meaningful relationship between the fine arts and industry and also to reinvigorate Italy's economy by rehabilitating traditional industries like textile production. Conversations about the unification of the arts had begun in 1949 at the Congresso Internazionale di Architettura Moderna. Looking west toward the United States for inspiration, Ponti featured American artist-designed textiles, particularly those of Schiffer Prints, in the pages of Domus, and increasingly promoted American and Swedish industrial design as a model to modernize his own patria.
Fontana coherently synthesized artisanal and mechanized production, marrying his art with Italy's achievements in textile production. Moreover, that the pattern relies so heavily on light, links it with Fontana's works in other media, like his luci spaziali and soffitti spaziali (spatial lighting and spatial ceilings), especially his ceiling for the Breda Pavilion cinema at the XXXI Fair of Milan in 1953.
By the time of Fontana's death in 1968, this textile had long been out of production, but its image endured. The 1966 edition of the Manifiesto blanco, published by Galleria Apollinaire, features on its slipcase a closely related Concetto, possibly a reproduction of the same or a nearly identical work, save for the change in light source and shadows, demonstrating that this composition was emblematic of Fontana's concept of Spatialism even in his last years.
Read more in the Cora Ginsburg Modern 2018 catalogue.